What are the potential outcomes of Trump’s hush money trial?

Written by on May 20, 2024

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(NEW YORK) — With former President Donald Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial well underway, experts said there are several potential outcomes and disagree whether the prosecution has proven its case yet.

The prosecution is expected to rest after former Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s testimony concludes Monday, then it will be the defense’s turn to make its case before the jury.

Trump, who has denied the charges in the cases, and his defense team have not revealed whether he will testify in his own defense, but one expert said the former president may want to take the case into his own hands.

“It’s been my experience in white-collar cases that even though defense attorneys try and keep their client off the stand — because it more often than not hurts them rather than helps them — I’m not sure he can help himself,” Chris Timmons, a former prosecutor and ABC News legal contributor, said in an interview.

“He is somebody who likes to be in control. I think he is probably feeling like he’s lost control,” Timmons said.

The defense left the door open on Thursday for Trump to testify.

“There’s always a time in the case where the case is won or lost. I think in this particular case, if the former president testifies, it will be that time. A lot will be riding on that cross examination,” Timmons said.

“It would be interesting to see if he actually stuck to the questions that were asked of him, or if he’d get off script,” Timmons said.

Could Trump be convicted?

Despite the prosecution presenting a strong case of factual evidence their case has not yet proven the technical elements of the crime Trump is charged with, another expert told ABC News.

“They’re missing elements in the prosecution’s case that they would have to establish in order to convict them,” Gregory Germain, an attorney and law professor at Syracuse University, told ABC News.

The prosecution needs to prove Trump falsified business records in furtherance of a separate crime, Germain explained.

Whether Trump is convicted of the charges will likely rest heavily on the guidance the judge will give the jury on how to reach a verdict.

“If the judge skirts over the difficult legal issues of the case and oversimplifies what they have to find, then I think the jury will probably find him guilty,” Germain said.

“My fear is that the judge will gloss over the legal issues and just say to the jury: do you believe that Trump falsified business records in order to hide information from the public during an election? And he’s likely guilty of that, but I don’t think that constitutes a crime,” Germain said.

But even so, with two corporate lawyers on the jury, it could be hard for them to overlook the legal elements missing from the case, according to Germain.

For a conviction, the prosecution needs to prove to the jury that Trump knew he allegedly falsified the records and that it was being done for political reasons — to keep the public from knowing that he made a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels — Timmons said.

“It’s a little bit of a technical charge and so the jury may struggle with that,” Timmons said.

But, the prosecution has made a strong case in proving the facts, Timmons said.

“For conviction, at least as far as their evidence is concerned, it looks like they’ve proven what they needed to prove,” Timmons said. “I don’t think the defense has scored a ton of points on cross examination so far.”

Directed Verdict

Before presenting their case, the defense will also have the opportunity to make a motion for a directed verdict — when a judge agrees with the defense that the prosecution has not provided enough evidence for a conviction and says there is no need for a jury to decide.

The defense would likely argue that elements of the crime have not been proven and ask the judge to dismiss the case. If denied, the defense could make the motion again after presenting their arguments, and claim they have disproved the prosecution’s case, Germain said.

It is unlikely the judge would grant a directed verdict, Timmons and Germain agreed.

“In this particular case, I think there’s been sufficient evidence to get the case to the jury,” Timmons said.

The judge has already denied previous motions to dismiss the case and it’s unlikely he would allow a directed verdict, Germain said.

A mistrial

A mistrial, when a judge determines that a case is inconclusive and dismisses it, could potentially be declared if the jury is unable to reach a verdict, Timmons said.

“I’m curious to see how long the jury’s out. That’s always an interesting thing to see. Particularly, if they’re having trouble reaching a decision, when does the judge then decide that there’s been enough time for the jury to have been out that they declare a mistrial and a hung jury?” Timmons said.

“I’d be concerned about the hung jury in this case,” Timmons said. “One of the jurors who made it onto the jury said that he got his news from two different sources, one of which being Trump’s Truth Social. So I think he’s going to be more likely to want to believe anything that the president says.”

But, judges don’t like granting mistrials, especially in long cases. In this case, a lot of time was spent in proceedings, including selecting a jury, Timmons said.

“I don’t see it getting mistried as a result of anything that any of the parties have done or anything the lawyers have done,” Timmons said.

The closest the case has come to a mistrial was when Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, testified in graphic detail about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump — but even then the judge said it was close to the line but did not warrant a mistrial, according to Timmons. Trump has denied having sex with Daniels.

Possible appeal

If found guilty, it is likely that Trump would appeal the decision, but that could take years, Germain said.

“Unless the court expedited it, it wouldn’t be resolved before the election. And I don’t think they would expedite it if it was just a conviction in which he didn’t go to jail,” Germain said.

If he is sentenced to jail, it is likely an expedited schedule would be set to see whether he should be released from jail, Germain said.

“For nonviolent, first time offenders like Trump, you would almost never get jail time. So it would be extraordinary and contrary to the guidelines to sentence Trump to prison, even if he is convicted of these charges,” Germain said.

During an appeal, it is likely the appellate court could see that there are major legal elements missing from the prosecution’s case, Germain said.

Timmons disagreed.

“I haven’t seen anything that jumped out at me as an appellate issue. Maybe the detail that stormy Daniels went into with regard to the alleged sex that she had with him that might be Court of Appeals might decide that that’s a little too salacious and may have caused the verdict to come back guilty. But it’s really hard to win an appeal in criminal court,” Timmons said.

Potential for an acquittal

Despite believing the allegations are true, Germain said the prosecution hasn’t proven the technical elements of the crime.

“If the judge clearly sets forth the legal elements that have to be proven in this case, I think he’ll be acquitted,” Germain said.

Timmons believes that even though the prosecution has made a strong case, there is always a chance that a jury would still find Trump not guilty.

“Even if the state or the people prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury could still decide that they just don’t like the case for some reason, and decide to acquit. I’ve had that happen before when I was a prosecutor,” Timmons said.

“I had one case, that was one of the best cases I’ve ever tried come back as a not guilty verdict because the jurors just didn’t like the case. So that can in particularly when you’re dealing with high profile individuals, that can happen,” Timmons said.

The technical nature of the case could also make it hard for the jury to convict Trump, Timmons said.

The prosecution resting a large part of their case on Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen’s testimony could also pose a problem for the jury.

“One issue that they’ll probably play up is that a lot of the people’s case rests on Michael Cohen and he’s somebody who is willing to lie and has done so in the past,” Timmons said.

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