Trump found guilty: 5 key aspects of the trial explained by a law professor

After the May 30, 2024, conviction of former President Donald Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in New York, what comes next?

Trump’s legal team will likely appeal the verdict. “We will fight
for our Constitution,” Trump said following the jury’s announcement.
“This is long from over.” A sentencing hearing for Trump is set for July

The Conversation U.S.‘ politics and society editor Amy Lieberman spoke with Gabriel J. Chin, a scholar of criminal law and procedure, to better understand the verdict.

1. Why were there so many different felony counts in this case?

The essence of the offenses Trump was convicted of is falsifying
documents or records. Accordingly, each check, invoice or other document
that the jury found had been falsified was a separate offense, which
can be the basis of a separate count and punished separately. The
prosecution wanted to make sure that the jury saw the full scope of the
scheme it alleged had occurred – which is that Trump covered up the fact
that he paid hush money
to porn star Stormy Daniels by disguising the payment as a legal fee to
his lawyer, Michael Cohen. Cohen then allegedly used Trump’s money to
pay Daniels to stop her from talking about her alleged affair with

2. What is most important for people to understand about this conviction?

It is historic and groundbreaking for a former or future president to
be convicted of felonies in the United States. There will be debate,
and people will have to judge whether this prosecution is an example of
the principle that no person is above the law, or whether this is an
example of political persecution.

As a technical legal matter, this conviction has a significant effect on all of Trump’s other criminal and civil cases.
At a minimum, it means that if Trump takes the stand to testify in any
case, opposing lawyers will be able to attack his credibility with this
conviction. Lawyers can argue that any witness with a felony conviction
might well be lying.

Practically speaking, this verdict also means that Trump – who is registered to vote in Florida – cannot vote there until completion of his sentence. Under federal law, he cannot possess a firearm. But he can still run for president
and serve in office, because nothing in the Constitution disqualifies
people with convictions – or who are in prison – from running for, or
serving as, president.

3. What can we know, if anything, about what his sentence might look like?

New York judge Juan Merchan will decide the sentence alone, without a jury.

It is not surprising that sentencing has been set for July, rather
than sooner. As in other cases, the probation office will prepare a
report that lays out Trump’s background and history, and the facts and
circumstances of this case. Trump has no criminal record, which is
generally a favorable sentencing factor. On the other hand, he does have
negative results from lawsuits, including a civil finding in 2023 that
determined he committed sexual assault.
One issue to look out for is whether the prosecution or the probation
department argues that Trump’s other criminal charges and civil cases
should be considered in sentencing.

One sentencing factor which sometimes comes into play is lack of
remorse; it is often a reason judges impose a more severe sentence. It
certainly does not seem that Trump has in any way acknowledged
that he did something regrettable, or committed a crime. Trump’s
violation of the gag orders in this case, which the judge has already
punished him for, could also be a factor used to argue for or impose a
higher sentence.

4. Given this verdict, is it likely that Trump will serve time in prison?

The offense of falsifying business records is deemed a “Class E” felony
in New York state – and each felony has a potential sentence of up to
four years. Probation is available instead of incarceration, or
probation plus a short term of incarceration. Sentences may be imposed
concurrently or consecutively, so theoretically Trump could get a
sentence of 136 years if maximum sentences on all counts are imposed
consecutively. But, while the sentence is up to the judge, based on past
practice it is reasonable to speculate that Trump will not be sentenced
to a long prison term, and may well receive no incarceration time at

A not-guilty verdict would have been final because of the Constitution’s prohibition against double jeopardy – meaning a person cannot be convicted, acquitted or punished more than once for the same offense.

This conviction will undoubtedly be challenged for years, and the
appeals process could have at least two chances to get to the U.S.
Supreme Court. Whether this case was appropriately tried in state court
will also be an issue – federal authority over federal elections and
election crimes is likely to be examined on appeal.

In other words, this case is not over by a long shot. It is likely
that even were Trump sentenced to incarceration, he would be allowed to
remain free, pending appeal. This practice is not uncommon in complex
and high-profile cases, at least where there are reasonable legal claims
of error.

5. What made the evidence so strong in this case that it persuaded jurors?

It is in part the breadth of the New York law which, unlike the law
in many states, criminalizes falsifying internal business records even
when they are private and not used to cheat the tax system or defraud
anyone. But even in New York, generally falsifying private business
records is a misdemeanor. It becomes a felony only if, as the jury found
here, the actions are used to cover up or conceal a crime.

In this case, the jury may well have been persuaded by the
prosecution’s argument that the crime covered up was essentially a
scheme to defraud the American people by concealing information about
the character and conduct of a presidential candidate.

Because Trump was alleged to have deceived voters, perhaps the jury
was unwilling to simply shrug this off as business as usual. Another
factor is the remarkable investigation that went into preparing this
case. The prosecution had so many witnesses and documents that it could
tell the story in highly specific detail.