Trump Risks Jail Time in NY Hush Money Case

Trump's trial highlights key legal challenges ahead

by Zain ul Abedin
Trump Risks Jail Time in NY Hush Money Case
© Megan Varner/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump, who faces a potential prison sentence if convicted in his upcoming New York hush money trial, might see a range of outcomes from probation to incarceration. The trial, set to commence on April 15, involves Trump's alleged efforts to obscure a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels through falsified business records, a move purportedly intended to influence the 2016 presidential election outcome.

Legal experts largely agree that a lengthy prison term is unlikely for Trump, who has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Each count carries a maximum sentence of four years, but given Trump’s lack of criminal history and the non-violent nature of the charges, sentences - if imposed - could range from probation to a limited term of incarceration.

The decision rests with Judge Juan Merchan, known for his stringent stance in similar cases. Merchan's recent expansion of a gag order against Trump, following the latter's disparaging remarks about Merchan's daughter on social media, underscores the strained relations between the judiciary and the former president.

According to John Moscow, a veteran New York lawyer, this behavior could influence the severity of Trump's sentence. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg argues that Trump's actions were intended to conceal violations of federal campaign finance and New York tax laws.

Convicting Trump requires proving he falsified records to commit or hide another crime, making the trial's outcome pivotal to the sentence.

Potential Sentence Outcomes

Despite the serious charges, New York’s legal framework might limit Trump's jail time.

Class E felonies, the category for Trump’s charges, carry a maximum of four years each but are often capped at 20 years. Sentences can be served concurrently, and parole eligibility often occurs well before the maximum sentence length.

Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggests that incarceration is a realistic outcome, citing similar cases where non-violent offenders received jail time for business record falsification. However, many experts, like Mitchell Epner and Anna Cominsky, anticipate a more lenient sentence, potentially probation, considering the non-violent nature of the allegations and Trump’s previous status as president.

Should Trump be convicted, appeals could delay the actual imposition of his sentence, and logistical considerations due to his Secret Service protection could complicate any incarceration scenario. As the trial approaches, its implications extend beyond the courtroom, potentially affecting Trump's 2024 presidential campaign ambitions and the broader political landscape.

The case not only tests the boundaries of legal accountability for former presidents but also underscores the ongoing tensions between Trump’s camp and the judicial system overseeing his myriad legal challenges.