Trump Jury Begins Deliberations After Strict Instructions

Alex Sterling
Alex Sterling
7 Min Read
"Donald Trump" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

After more than five weeks of trial, countless hours of testimony, and a mountain of documents, New York Justice Juan Merchan has instructed a panel of 12 jurors to make a historic decision: whether Donald Trump is guilty or not guilty of felony charges.

On Wednesday, following the final arguments from both sides, Justice Merchan delivered over an hour of deliberation instructions, meticulously explaining each charge and detailing the elements of the alleged crime. He clarified that the burden of proof lies on the prosecutors to establish Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

“It is not sufficient to prove that the defendant is probably guilty,” Justice Merchan told the court. “In a criminal case, the proof of guilt must be stronger than that.”

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records related to a hush-money payment made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had an affair with Trump. He denies the encounter.

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During the morning session, Justice Merchan provided various guidelines, advising jurors to avoid biases and not to be influenced by the criminal convictions of other witnesses. He outlined the prosecution’s complex case against Trump, alleging he falsified a reimbursement to his fixer for the hush-money payment to conceal other crimes, such as violations of state and federal election laws and tax laws.

Justice Merchan emphasized that prosecutors do not need to prove these secondary crimes, nor do jurors need to agree on which specific one Trump committed. However, they must reach a unanimous verdict on each of the 34 counts.

The defense has consistently denied any wrongdoing, aiming to discredit the testimony of the prosecution’s key witness, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer and a convicted felon, to undermine the broader case.

By Wednesday afternoon, jurors left the Manhattan courthouse without reaching a verdict. They did return to the courtroom later, seeking specific testimony to aid their deliberations.

When they reconvene on Thursday morning, they will review the requested testimony and continue to deliberate whether Trump will become the first former president to be convicted of a felony.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Here is what jurors could decide:

Trump is Found Guilty

All 12 jurors must unanimously agree that Trump is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction. This scenario would be the most damaging for Trump, making him the first major party candidate running for US president as a felon. He would likely appeal the verdict, as his lawyers have already unsuccessfully argued for a mistrial multiple times.

If found guilty, Trump faces a maximum sentence of four years per count or a lesser punishment of probation and a fine. Most experts believe the 77-year-old is unlikely to serve time in prison due to the non-violent nature of the offense and his age.

Former Brooklyn prosecutor Julie Rendelman commented, “It is a non-violent offense. It’s the lowest of the [felony] offenses. With no record, his age, you name it, it would be highly unlikely.”

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If Trump were sentenced to prison, it would pose logistical challenges for court officers and Secret Service staff required to protect him.

Trump is Acquitted

If all 12 jurors find that prosecutors have not proven Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, he would be acquitted of the felony charges. This outcome would be a significant setback for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and a major victory for Trump as he seeks to return to the White House. Although a convicted felon can legally run for president, a guilty verdict could harm his chances with voters.

An acquittal would indicate that the prosecution failed to convince the jury, despite weeks of testimony and extensive questioning of high-profile witnesses, including Daniels, Cohen, and a former senior Trump aide.

Trump has consistently claimed during the trial that Judge Merchan and the case against him are unfair, maintaining that he has committed no crime. He faces three other criminal cases, including those related to election interference and the January 6 Capitol riot, but this case was widely considered the most likely to go to trial before the November 5 election.

A Hung Jury

A single dissenting juror could result in a hung jury. If the jurors cannot reach a unanimous verdict, Justice Merchan may instruct them to try again to reach a decision. However, if they remain deadlocked, he would declare a mistrial, and prosecutors would need to decide whether to retry the case.

As the jury deliberates, the nation watches closely, aware that their decision will have significant implications for Trump’s future and the upcoming presidential election.

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