Key Facts to Know About Trump’s Day in Court as a Criminal Defendant

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On April 5th, 2023, history was made as a former U.S. president, Donald Trump, appeared in court as a criminal defendant. He surrendered to authorities after being indicted by a New York grand jury on charges related to hush-money payments made at the height of the 2016 presidential election. Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges in a Manhattan courtroom and then flew home to Florida, where he spoke to a crowd of supporters at his home.

The indictment accused Trump of conspiring to undermine the 2016 presidential election by trying to suppress information that could harm his candidacy, and then concealing the true nature of the hush-money payments made to two women, including a porn actor, and a doorman at Trump Tower. Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.

Trump was briefly seen outside the district attorney’s office, where he surrendered to authorities and was booked and fingerprinted behind closed doors. He did not stop to speak to reporters and only spoke briefly in court, telling the judge he was pleading not guilty and had been advised of his rights. Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, said during the hearing that Trump was frustrated, upset, and believed that there was a great injustice happening in the courtroom.

Before appearing in court, Trump made posts on his social media network complaining that the heavily Democratic area was a “VERY UNFAIR VENUE” and “THIS IS NOT WHAT AMERICA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!” He has portrayed the Manhattan case and three separate investigations from the Justice Department and prosecutors in Georgia as politically motivated.

Appearing in front of several hundred supporters at his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, Trump repeated his claims that the investigation was politically motivated and attacked Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the judge in the New York case. Bragg, speaking publicly for the first time since the indictment last week, held a brief news conference after the court proceedings in which he said the hush-money scheme constituted “felony crimes in New York state – no matter who you are.”

If convicted of any one of the 34 felony charges, Trump could face a maximum of four years in prison, but he would likely be sentenced to less. He is due back in court in December, but his lawyers have asked that he be excused from attending that hearing in person because of the extraordinary security required to have him show up. Prosecutors have asked the judge to set a trial for January, weeks before the first votes will be cast in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Trump’s lawyers have asked that it be pushed to the spring. The judge has not yet set a date.

Trump’s legal troubles are only expected to bolster Democratic voters’ opposition to him, but it’s unclear whether they will have any impact on his Republican supporters. Most of the Republicans also running or eyeing campaigns have released statements supportive of Trump while slamming the investigations of him as politically motivated. Many Democratic elected officials have said little about the New York indictment, including President Joe Biden.

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