Trump’s arrest: questions and answers

We asked USC students what questions they had about Trump’s arrest, here are the answers

Trump sits inside the courthouse with his lawyers, he is wearing a dark blue suit with a red tie.

Former President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges by a New York Grand Jury. In the indictment, The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office alleges Trump attempted to suppress damaging information during the 2016 elections by paying off an adult porn star, Stormy Daniels who he had an alleged affair with, as well as falsifying the business records related to the payments.

This is the first time that a former president has been charged with a criminal act.

Here are some FAQs USC students and Annenberg Media reporters had about the case.

How long will this process last?

The process of Trump’s indictment is going to be long and is expected to continue into his 2024 campaign. Trump has made it very clear that he will continue to the fight charges. It is also expected that Trump will argue that he will not be able to receive a fair trial in Manhattan which could result in the trial being moved. It is also expected that Trump’s legal team will try to delay the trial for as long as possible.

Besides the 34 felony counts of falsification of business records, Trump is also currently the focus of three other investigations.

  1. The Department of Justice is currently investigating Trump’s involvement in the January 6 attack on the U.S. capitol and his broader efforts to overturn the election.
  2. His interference with the Georgia 2020 election results, where he and his team allegedly pressured state officials to change the outcome.
  3. New York Attorney General, Letitia James, is suing Trump, three of his adult children, and the Trump Organization surrounding a decade-long scheme to manipulate Trump’s assets and net worth.

Trump has denied wrongdoing in all of these investigations.

Is paying someone hush money a crime?

Although in most cases paying hush money is not a crime, it depends on the payment’s purpose.

The issue isn’t paying the money per se, but allegedly falsifying these payments as business expenses.

Rachel Fiset from Zweiback, Fiset, and Zalduendo Law says that “what will be undisputed is that he paid Michael Cohen $130,000 and wrote that off as a legal expense” and he later wrote it off as a legal expense. “You can’t make hush money payments and write them off,” said Fiset.

Can Trump still run for president if he is found guilty of a felony?

Trump still can run for the presidency if found guilty of a felony. There is nothing in the Constitution that directly states that a president cannot be a felon. Although being convicted of crimes might offer other personal problems for Trump, his eligibility for candidacy is not one.

While Trump’s felony charges do not affect his candidacy, it is unprecedented territory for such a high-ranking political official to receive these charges.

“This is the first time that a former president has been charged with a criminal act and that is incredibly historic when you think of all of the weight and gravitas that the president of the United States has,” said Fiset.

Professor Bennett Gershman from Pace Law School said this could possibly affect Trump’s campaign politically.

“Trump thinks it’s going to improve his political position, it’s going to make him appear to be a victim,” said Gershman. “I think that his political rivals will use this as a way of attacking him and undermining his candidacy on the grounds that you shouldn’t be president because of statements like this that have occurred… I think it’s going to damage and seriously.”

Will Trump go to jail?

While jail time is possible, it is extremely unlikely in Trump’s case. Charges such as falsifying business records in the first degree can carry a sentence of up to four years of jail time. However, this is unlikely since this is Trump’s first and non-violent offense, coupled with his age of 76.

“It’s something that is way, way, way down the route, thinking of conviction… There are a lot of things that are going to happen before we have a jury trial here and so we have to kind of take it step by step and not look to the far reaches of where this thing might take us,” said Gershman.

At this time, Trump still resides in his Florida home.

Why is there no mugshot of Trump?

Trump will be treated in most respects like any other criminal defendant, but no mugshot was taken.

Under New York State law, enforcement officials have discretion over whether they take mug shots of certain individuals.

Mugshots are usually used to identify defendants, but since Trump is extremely high profile a mugshot is not needed.

The court case will likely extend to 2024, during election season and it could also last beyond that. Trump is likely to use different routes to prolong the case.