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Former President’s Future Rests in Jury’s Hands

Jury to start the day hearing judge’s instructions again.

Donald Trump is presently being judged by a jury of 12 people, accused of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Not since 1974, before President Richard Nixon was pardoned by his successor, President Gerald Ford, has a past commander-in-chief been in such criminal jeopardy. Judge Juan Merchan charged the jury with the case yesterday morning (May 29), and now the country and the defendant await their decision.

Merchan told the jury they did not have to be unanimous on the underlying crime that established a basis for the almost three dozen charges of falsifying business records. A guilty verdict on any of the 34 counts depends on finding intent to fraudulently file records and another crime. In this case, that might be violating New York City or federal election law. Jurors don’t have to agree on which law Trump violated in addition to the fraudulent filing. The judge explained that excessive donations or violating corporate donation rules, for instance, would each qualify.


Law professor and legal commentator Jonathan Turley tweeted from the courtroom: “Merchan just delivered the coup de grace instruction. He said that there is no need to agree on what occurred. [The jury] can disagree on what the crime was among the three choices. Thus, this means that they could split 4-4-4 and he will still treat them as unanimous.” No fan of the prosecution or judge in the case, Turley wrote: “Before jurors left, Judge Juan Merchan framed their deliberations in a way that seemed less like a jury deliberation than a canned hunt.”

How was it canned? Turley said the judge allowed the jury to be told repeatedly, and falsely, that Trump committed federal campaign violations. Turley went on: “That is not true … [T]he judge allowed them to be repeatedly told a false fact that could make it difficult for anyone to acquit.”

Merchan instructed jurors to strive for a universal verdict while remaining committed to their judgments when firm. Per reports from the courthouse, he stated: “You should not surrender an honest view of the evidence simply because you want the trial to be over or are outvoted.”

Trump: The Jury Instructions Were Rigged

During an afternoon break, Trump commented to reporters in the courthouse hallway that the instructions were “rigged” against him and that “Mother Teresa could not beat these charges, but we’ll see.”

An odd feature of New York criminal trial procedure is that juries are not presented with printed jury instructions; the judge reads them aloud. If members of the jury later want clarification on a point, they are directed back into the courtroom, where the judge has the court reporter read them again from the transcript. It is as cumbersome as it sounds. Trump’s jurors requested the instructions again toward the end of Merchan’s appointed 4:30 p.m. quitting time, prompting the judge to end a little early and begin the next day with the reading.

Merchan told the jurors they may choose to work late today (May 30), but not past 6 p.m.

Read More From Scott D. Cosenza, Esq.

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