Legal Analysts Share Mixed Reactions to Trump’s ‘Historic’ Conviction

Opinions varied on whether the verdict was fair, though none were surprised by the outcome.

A mix of cheers and boos erupted outside a Manhattan courthouse on May 30 as news broke of former President Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 counts of falsification of business records with the intent to conceal another crime.

And the ensuing reactions from legal analysts were just as mixed. While some expressed agreement with the verdict, other reactions ranged from shock to dismay.

“It’s a sad day,” Harvey Kushner, chair of the Criminal Justice Studies department at Long Island University, told The Epoch Times.

“I think it’s a sad day for our system, and I don’t think it bodes well for the future. This is going to cause quite a bit of turmoil within our society.”

That perspective was shared by Pennsylvania lawyer Bruce Castor, one of President Trump’s former attorneys, and John Malcolm, vice president of the Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Constitutional Government. But California attorney Neama Rahmani had a different view.

“As someone who believes in the rule of law and that no one is above the law, I think that it’s a historic day. And I have to tip my hat to prosecutors, jurors who did their job, and brought a difficult case and were able to secure a conviction,” he said.

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The jurors were fairly prompt in returning the verdict, reaching a unanimous decision in just under 12 hours. And the verdict was indeed historic, making President Trump the first U.S. president to be convicted of a crime.

The six-week trial included testimony from 22 witnesses, including President Trump’s disgraced former attorney Michael Cohen and Stephanie Clifford, an adult film actress professionally known as Stormy Daniels.

The case centered on $130,000 in alleged “hush money” payments that Mr. Cohen paid to Ms. Clifford—purportedly on President Trump’s behalf—ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Prosecutors said President Trump falsely labeled the reimbursements for those payments as legal expenses to conceal another crime, elevating what would normally be a misdemeanor offense to a class E felony. But as for what the concealed crime was, prosecutors were less specific, presenting federal election law violations, tax fraud, and the falsification of other business records as possibilities.


While legal experts differed on whether the case was rightly decided, none were shocked by the outcome.

For Mr. Rahmani, the verdict was as he expected it would be as he held that the facts of the case supported a conviction.

While others strongly disagreed on that point, the fact that the trial was held in deep blue New York led many to assume from the start that the jury would have an anti-Trump lean.

“And then when you think of all these other things—I mean, the judge, his family, their reputation of raising money for Biden—this smacks of a banana republic,” Mr. Kushner said.

During the trial, President Trump frequently accused Judge Merchan of being biased, unfair, and “conflicted”—particularly since it was revealed that the judge’s daughter, Loren Merchan, runs a political consulting firm that boasts the Biden-Harris campaign as a client.

And he wasn’t the only person to hold that view.

Mr. Castor, who defended the former president during his second impeachment trial over the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, said he thought Judge Merchan’s disdain for President Trump was “palpable.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Malcolm pointed to the judge’s restrictions on the defense during the trial and his unorthodox jury instructions as evidence that he favored the prosecution.

Jury Instructions Puzzle Experts

In a seemingly unprecedented move, Judge Merchan instructed the jurors on March 29 that they were not required to agree on all key elements of the case to reach a unanimous verdict.

That instruction sparked concerns among a trio of former prosecutors who told The Epoch Times that it appeared to violate President Trump’s constitutional rights.

“Judge Merchan is instructing the jury: One of you jurors can pick this underlying offense, and another can pick from a second or a third underlying offense, and so on. It makes no sense,” said Ohio attorney Mike Allen, a former prosecutor and judge. “And my strong guess is that it would be overturned on appeal.”

Liberty University law professor Phill Kline, a former Kansas attorney general, concurred with that opinion.

The way the jury instructions were written invites the jury to convict “solely based on their dislike for what they believe Trump might have done, could have done, or should have done,” Mr. Kline said. “This represents, really, a tyrannical breach of the law into individual liberties and rights, and chills political speech and conduct.”

He also criticized the jury instructions for “vagueness” in describing the three possible underlying violations of tax, records, and election laws.

“There’s been a grave concern that the judge hasn’t identified the underlying crime,” Mr. Kline said, noting that the lack of specificity likely hindered President Trump’s defense.

“No advance knowledge was given to Mr. Trump about the underlying crime, what its elements were… That’s a violation of his constitutional due process rights to a fair trial and notice of the crime for which is charged,” Mr. Kline said.

He also said it was improper to allow the jury to choose from “a smorgasbord of possible underlying crimes.”

“His right to the presumption of innocence and the requirement that there be a unanimous verdict against him has been violated,” Mr. Kline said, “because now the jurors don’t even have to agree on what the underlying crime is.”

Another concern: The judge chose not to provide a written copy of the complex 54-page document for jurors to reference during their deliberations. He read it aloud for more than an hour, and jurors needed him to re-read the instructions to continue their work on May 30, the second day of deliberations.

Mr. Allen noted, “every jury trial I had as a judge, I gave the juries copies of the jury instructions,” and he doesn’t understand why Judge Merchan didn’t do so.

Part of the answer may be this: It’s not standard practice in New York state courts, said Mark Bederow, a New York City criminal defense lawyer who formerly served as a Manhattan assistant prosecutor.

However, Mr. Bederow said a lack of written instructions increases the likelihood that jurors will not understand what they are supposed to do. “Let’s face it: It’s confusing as hell,” he said.

That’s especially true, Mr. Bederow said, because of the complex legal theory that was used in this case. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his team hitched together multiple sections of law to elevate a misdemeanor business-records violation to a felony.

Mr. Bederow said Judge Merchan has enjoyed a favorable reputation in the New York law community. But, he said, some people in legal circles “are somewhat troubled by this case” and have questioned whether he should have recused himself. Judges are expected to avoid any “appearance of impropriety,” Mr. Bederow pointed out.

Recent allegations of political bias have colored public perceptions of Judge Merchan’s rulings. Amid President Trump’s accusations of partisanship, few voices have risen to the judge’s defense online, and most of those appear to be ordinary citizens who dislike President Trump.

“Everyone has an opinion about this,” Mr. Bederow said. Some say it’s “a snow job to basically fix the election going forward, whereas many people who don’t like Trump see it as a plot that was used to fix the prior election.”

“This country is being torn apart over politics on a daily basis, and this case is front and center,” Mr. Bederow lamented. “And this is just a very unhealthy process for everyone to see… None of this is good.”

Looking Ahead

President Trump’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 11, though he is expected to appeal his conviction.

The charges he was convicted on carry a maximum sentence of four years’ imprisonment per charge, though none of the legal analysts The Epoch Times spoke with said they believed he would face prison time.

“Judge Juan Merchan showed his reluctance to jail Trump when he violated the gag order 10 times,” Mr. Rahmani contended.

While he added that he thought the charges would stand on appeal, Mr. Castor said there was “no question” in his mind that President Trump’s conviction would be reversed.

“I made the same prediction when the Colorado Supreme Court struck Mr. Trump from the ballot, and I was proven correct,” he said.

While Mr. Malcolm likewise said he would not be surprised if the conviction were overturned, he noted that such an event was unlikely to happen until after the Nov. 5 election.

The election was also on Mr. Kushner’s mind. For him, the implications of the conviction of President Joe Biden’s chief rival for the presidency were hard to ignore.

“This impacts on the ability of the public to select their leader,” he noted.

He added, however, that he did not think the verdict would result in any measurable difference in public opinion toward President Trump.

Mr. Carter, on the other hand, said that the former president’s conviction was likely to help him in the polls.

“The public at large sees this for what it is: a political attack to try to keep Mr. Trump off the ballot,” he said.

“This will slingshot the other way as the, say, 20 percent of the people who have not made up their minds react negatively against the Democrats. Joe Biden just lost the election.”

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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