Former President Trump Charged with Felonies

Posted by on Apr 17, 2023 in Current Events, Stuff You Should Know

On March 30, 2023, former president Donald Trump was charged with falsifying business records at his private company. Falsifying business records includes entering inaccurate information on a business document for one’s own benefit. It is illegal under New York state law. The records in question are related to money Trump sent to his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. He was charged with using money to hide stories that could have been harmful to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Trump pleaded not guilty to the 34 felony charges on April 4, 2023. He is the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges. 

The Charges Trump is Facing 

The office of the Manhattan District Attorney conducted years of investigations into Trump’s private company. These investigations revealed evidence of 34 false entries in the company’s business records. The district attorney argues that the false entries hid hush money paid to multiple individuals in 2015 and 2016. Hush money is money paid to someone to prevent them from sharing damaging information. This was part of an effort to find and hide negative stories about Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for his role in the scheme. He served a three-year prison sentence for these charges and other separate crimes, which ended in 2021. 

Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor, or lesser crime, under New York law. However, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg raised Trump’s charges from misdemeanors to felonies because the activity was intended to cover up another crime. Bragg claims that the scheme violated two parts of New York election law. Firstly, he argues that the scheme planned to illegally promote a candidate. Secondly, the $130,000 in payments exceeded the federal limit for campaign contributions. In 2016, individuals could only contribute a maximum of $2,700 per election, per candidate. Some legal experts, including Cornell Law School Professor Randy Zelin and former Manhattan assistant district attorney Lance Fletcher, have criticized this interpretation of the law. They think that proving intent to commit election fraud as a felony will be difficult. 

The office of the Manhattan District Attorney presented the evidence to a grand jury of twenty-three Manhattan residents. The jury reviewed the evidence to decide if there was enough proof to charge Trump with criminal activity. Unlike a trial jury, a grand jury does not decide if the person is guilty. The majority voted to charge the former president with 34 counts, or separate instances, of falsifying business records. Then, Trump and his lawyers appeared in court to hear the charges. Trump entered a not-guilty plea.  

What Happens Next? 

Now, Trump and his lawyers will review evidence collected during the district attorney’s investigations. They have until August 8, 2023, to file motions with the New York Supreme Court. A motion is a formal request made by a lawyer to the judge before the trial begins. Motions can affect which judge hears the case, what can be used as evidence, and if the case goes to trial. Currently, the judge is scheduled to rule on all motions submitted by Trump’s lawyers on December 4, 2023. The judge could dismiss the case, or Trump’s lawyers could come to a pre-trial agreement with the district attorney’s office. If not, the case is expected to go to trial in 2024.  

Trump is also facing more potential legal charges in Georgia. Another grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, is currently hearing evidence about whether Trump interfered with the 2020 presidential election results in that state.  

Share What You Know Use the information in this article and additional research to create a diagram that outlines the typical steps in a criminal case from investigation to sentencing. Indicate which steps have already occurred in this case involving former President Trump.