Two Things To Watch Out For In Trump's Trial

[ Posted Tuesday, April 16th, 2024 – 15:41 UTC ]

The first criminal trial of Donald Trump leapt forward today in New York City, making more progress than some had predicted after yesterday's rather slow start. Seven jurors have now been seated, which is more than one-third of the total needed (there will be a dozen jurors and six alternates in total). Nothing will happen tomorrow (the judge has ruled that the trial will take a break on every Wednesday), but it's not out of the question that a full panel of jurors could be seated by the end of the week.

Trump's legal team has been busy digging into all the prospective jurors' online presences, and several were challenged today "for cause." Lawyers from both sides -- the prosecution and the defense -- can challenge jurors for a valid reason (showing bias, mostly) and they also have a limited number (10 each) of "peremptory challenges," where they can dismiss jurors for essentially no reason at all (other than: "I don't want that person on the jury"). As of this writing, Trump's lawyers have used up six of theirs and the prosecution has used up four. Of the jurors challenged by Trump's team, some were dismissed for cause, but not all of them (the judge has to agree that there is a valid cause, and he didn't for at least one juror).

Whether it happens by the end of the week or not, at some point the full jury will be seated and the trial itself will actually get underway. Trump has tried delaying this inevitability in pretty much every way he and his lawyers could think up, but finally the delays will be over and opening arguments will begin.

But there are two tricks Trump still might have up his sleeve which could introduce massive new delays into the proceedings, although few have commented on the possibility yet. The first is that Trump could -- at any time -- just decide to fire all his lawyers. A defendant is entitled to the defense of their choosing, and if Trump decides that the lawyers representing him aren't doing what he wants them to do then he can drop them and hire new lawyers (who assumably will follow his directions).

But, of course, Trump will argue that this is a complex case with tons of evidence to sift through and therefore his new legal team should be given oodles of time to get up to speed. He will (no doubt) ask for months of delay. This will almost certainly enrage the judge, but it is every defendant's right to be represented as they see fit. If the judge refused to allow Trump to change legal teams in the middle of the trial, then that would be instant grounds for Trump to appeal whatever the outcome is. Such an appeal might work, too -- which the judge knows full well. Trump won't get all the time he asks for, but this could delay the trial for a long period, which is exactly what Trump wants.

The other trick Trump could wind up using is much more self-destructive. It is on the order of a kamikaze attack, in fact. Trump could at any moment decide to fly off the handle and start ranting and raving in the courtroom. It would depend on what he actually said, but if Trump throws a tantrum which taints the entire presentation of the case in some way then the judge would have no choice but to declare a mistrial. Doing so would put everything back to square one -- a new jury would have to be seated and the trial would have to begin again from the very start.

This would be self-destructive in the extreme, since judges hate having to declare a mistrial. It wastes their time, it wastes the jury members' time, and it is unprofessional and disruptive. If Trump blows his stack and forces a mistrial, the judge could very well be so incensed that he decides to lock Trump up until the end of a new trial. Or he could banish Trump from the courtroom for the retrial -- forcing him to only participate in the proceedings via video screen (with a mute button the judge controls).

Of course, I have presented this as a conscious decision by Trump, but it is impossible to know the workings of his mind. He may explode simply because he has the self-control of a cranky toddler and cannot contain himself. He has already been admonished by the judge for muttering and gesturing at one of the prospective jurors today. The judge instructed Trump's lawyer to give Trump a talking-to and settle him down -- which he did -- but Trump reportedly looked "furious" afterwards. Nobody likes getting told what they can and cannot do, and Trump is certainly in a class by himself in this regard. So the probability is that it will not actually be some three-dimensional chess move on Trump's part, but rather just Trump being Trump and blurting something out in uncontrollable anger.

This trial is going to take weeks. Trump is going to be required to sit there silently during it all, while witnesses say things Trump does not want to hear. What are the odds that he'll be able to fully control himself while Michael Cohen or Stormy Daniels is on the stand?

Trump has even said that he's going to testify himself in his own defense. This would be a monumentally stupid thing for him to do, so his lawyers are likely already trying to talk him out of such a move. Trump would be absolutely savaged in cross-examination by the prosecution, but to him all of life is performance art, so he may find the lure of "telling his own side of the story" too enticing to pass up. But doing so will also run the risk that Trump will say something on the stand that the judge has previously ruled is inadmissible, so Trump could wind up causing a mistrial even without exploding in anger at somebody else giving testimony.

Firing your legal team or causing a mistrial are not normal legal tactics, it bears pointing out. Normal defendants don't do this sort of thing, to put it another way. But Trump is anything but a normal defendant, and to Trump the most important thing is to drag the proceedings out as long as possible in the hopes that he'll get elected president in the meantime and somehow all his legal problems will go away.

If either of these things happen, my guess is that they'll happen mostly because Trump and his lawyers realize that the case isn't going very well for their side. If it seems obvious that the prosecution is making an excellent case to the jury while the defense is flailing around, then Trump will be like a cornered animal and could lash out either loudly in court or by firing his lawyers. Either one would be the ultimate legal "Hail Mary pass" -- a desperate attempt to change the outcome very late in the game. But I certainly wouldn't put it past Donald Trump to attempt to derail everything by using such drastic measures. I'm not a Las Vegas oddsmaker, so I have no real idea what the chances of either of these things happening truly is, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if one of them does.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


13 Comments on “Two Things To Watch Out For In Trump's Trial”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    What are the odds that he'll be able to fully control himself while Michael Cohen or Stormy Daniels is on the stand?

    Depends. I think the odds are absolute zero he'll be able to control himself so it would behoove his attorneys to ensure he's wearing his diaper.

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:

    I found out specifically which laws the Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg is relying on in order to elevate Trump's 34 counts of falsification of business records from misdemeanors to felonies:

    17-152. Conspiracy to promote or prevent election. Any two or more persons who conspire to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means and which conspiracy is acted upon by one or more of the parties thereto, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

    New York Election Law, Section 17-152


  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:


    (a) As used in this article, "tax fraud act" means willfully engaging in an act or acts or willfully causing another to engage in an act or acts pursuant to which a person:


    (3) knowingly supplies or submits materially false or fraudulent information in connection with any return, audit, investigation, or proceeding or fails to supply information within the time required by or under the provisions of this chapter or any regulation promulgated under this chapter;

    New York Tax Law Section 1801(a)(3)

    Criminal tax fraud in the fifth degree

    A person commits criminal tax fraud in the fifth degree when he or she commits a tax fraud act. Criminal tax fraud in the fifth degree is a class A misdemeanor.

    New York Tax Law Section 1802


  4. [4] 
    Kick wrote:


    Falsifying business records in the second degree

    A person is guilty of falsifying business records in the second degree when, with intent to defraud, he:

    1. Makes or causes a false entry in the business records of an enterprise; or

    2. Alters, erases, obliterates, deletes, removes or destroys a true entry in the business records of an enterprise; or

    3. Omits to make a true entry in the business records of an enterprise in violation of a duty to do so which he knows to be imposed upon him by law or by the nature of his position; or

    4. Prevents the making of a true entry or causes the omission thereof in the business records of an enterprise. Falsifying business records in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.

    New York Penal Law Section 175.05

    Falsifying business records in the first degree

    A person is guilty of falsifying business records in the first degree when he commits the crime of falsifying business records in the second degree, and when his intent to defraud includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof. Falsifying business records in the first degree is a class E felony.

    New York Penal Law Section 175.10


    Federal Election Campaign Act 52 USC Section 30101 et seq.

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It's all quite amusing.

  6. [6] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    [1] Childishly hilarious! I love it! Well played.

    The remainder: Thank you for doing that research. Very cool.

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Hosanna! Hosanna oh Queen of Snark!

    And I, too, enjoy your research.

  8. [8] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    It appears that Thom Hartmann discusses your question about the feds and the current NY Trump trial, CW.

  9. [9] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    I don't see why he's making such a big deal out of this episode. Nobody goes to jail for paying for sex, nor for paying for silence, nor for cheating on income tax.

    He ain't got a ghost of a chance of being declared 'not guilty', so why not just pay the fine and be thru with it??

  10. [10] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    C.R. Stucki [9]
    Even assuming you're correct, that's not what Trump is accused of here. This is an election interference trial based around a conspiracy to commit business fraud to hide damaging information from potential voters. While prison may be an unlikely sentence should Trump be found guilty, it's a very possible one. And beyond that, being a convicted felon is a notable blotch on one's record, whether that person is running for president or simply applying for a loan.

  11. [11] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    If "business fraud" (tax evasion) and "hiding damaging info" are against the law, why isn't nearly every gawdam politician in the country in jail??

    And if the record of you whole phuquing life is one giant "blotch", what would one more 'blotch-let' count for??

  12. [12] 
    Speak2 wrote:

    Stucki [11]
    I like it; take that censors.

  13. [13] 
    Kick wrote:

    C. R. Stucki

    It's good to "see" you Stucki; I've genuinely been concerned about your general welfare.

    I don't see why he's making such a big deal out of this episode.

    He who? Trump?

    Nobody goes to jail for paying for sex,

    Jeffrey Epstein (associate of Trump)

    nor for paying for silence,

    Michael Cohen (associate of Trump)

    nor for cheating on income tax.

    Paul Manafort (associate of Trump)

    He ain't got a ghost of a chance of being declared 'not guilty', so why not just pay the fine and be thru with it??

    Probably because he lives in Florida and wants to vote in November. Heh. Actually, it's because he is a textbook narcissist who believes he can always "beat the system," no matter how many times he loses in a court of law and despite all evidence to the contrary. :)

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