Trump case likely to drag on after 2024 election, experts say
Jhe historic impeachment of former President Donald Trump has thrown the justice system into troubled waters, raising the prospect of a high-profile presidential candidate campaigning across the country while facing trial for criminal charges.
But legal experts warn it could take years for Trump’s criminal case to progress through the court system, and the potential for a litany of hard-hitting motions and delaying tactics could well push the trial back until after the election. presidential election in 2024.
“I can’t imagine that Trump would be convicted and sent to prison before the end of the 2024 election season,” said UCLA election law professor Richard Hasen.
The unprecedented nature of a former president facing criminal charges has a wide web of unknowns, but if one thing is clear from Trump’s extensive court record, it’s that he will likely seek to delay and extend the procedure for as long as possible. In dozens of legal cases dating back decades, Trump’s legal team has filed an extensive list of motions and appeals designed to stretch the clock.
The specific charge or charges against Trump have not been made public as the indictment remains under seal, but one of Trump’s attorneys told TIME the former president is expected to go on Tuesday to be arraigned in Manhattan State Supreme Court.
Learn more: Trump is about to test the credibility of our justice system
In practice, the start of the trial could take months, even if both sides proceed quickly, because a jury must be selected and approved.
But the details of the case are likely to be ripe for motions from Trump’s legal team that, even if unsuccessful, would prolong the proceedings. The case revolves around Trump’s role in silent payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election to cover up an alleged affair. Trump’s lawyers could try to send the case to federal court given the constitutional implications, arguing that at least some of the payments took place while Trump was president and shouldn’t be decided in state court. He may also seek to move the trial to another New York state courthouse.
In order to charge Trump with a crime, legal experts say New York prosecutors likely combined a charge of falsifying business records with a violation of state election law, even though the case involves a federal election. Kim Wehle, a former assistant U.S. attorney and now a law professor at the University of Baltimore, said the former president could try to have the indictment dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor charge. He might even argue that prosecutors waited too long. In New York, the statute of limitations for most crimes is five years, but there are a few exceptions to that time frame, including if the accused person lived out of state, like Trump.
All of these pre-trial motions could take months to resolve, suggesting that Trump will spend most, if not all, of his election season embroiled in legal wrangling, with a trial ahead of him.
“This case could easily go beyond the 2024 election given all the complexities,” Wehle said. “Trump’s attorneys have no problem filing frivolous motions, but there are plenty of legitimate, good-faith arguments to make on Trump’s behalf, without even seeing the indictment.”
For Trump, every delay he can extract from the justice system is useful. He knows that if the trial is scheduled after November 5, 2024 and he wins the presidential election, the case will not prevent him from returning to the White House. Some legal experts believe Trump will take every possible opportunity to delay proceedings, making a pre-election criminal trial nearly impossible.
Still, the delaying tactics available to Trump are more limited than when he was president, notes Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general and current professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University. While in the White House, Trump was able to assert that sitting presidents are immune from federal prosecution and can invoke executive privilege to hide information.
“Because this is a state, not a federal charge, and before Trump is president, all the nonsensical delaying tactics Trump has used in the past will not work,” Katyal wrote on Twitter. “The trial will take place.”
More recently, a criminal tax case filed against the Trump Organization in the same court in 2021 took about 15 months to go to trial. A jury ultimately convicted two Trump companies on all 17 felony counts last December.
Still, some cases involving high-profile defendants can take even longer to come to trial. In Texas, Ken Paxton, the state attorney general, was charged with securities fraud in 2015; more than seven years later, he still has not been tried as the case bounces back to trial courts.
Wehle, who worked on the Whitewater investigation into former President Bill Clinton as associate independent counsel, says there are a number of logistical reasons why trials with high implications, particularly those involving high profile figures policies, tend to drag on for long periods of time. In 1996, when President Bill Clinton was subpoenaed by a grand jury as a defense witness in a financial fraud case, it took more than two months of back and forth negotiations to get his testimony, and he there were constraints on the questions asked. “There are going to be negotiations to try to protect the integrity of the presidency – some sensitivity to the fact that Trump is a former president,” she says.
A longer trial that takes place well before the 2024 presidential campaign could also benefit Trump as a fundraising tool, capturing the outrage that has circulated among his base who believe the former president is politically persecuted. “It’s both embarrassing, but it also makes him a martyr,” says Saikrishna Prakash, a law professor at the University of Virginia, former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Learn more: How Trump’s Mug Shot Could Fuel a Fundraising Boon – For Trump
Although the charges remain unknown, Trump’s legal strategy will likely include attacks on the credibility of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, citing his criminal record. Cohen served time in prison after pleading guilty in 2018 to federal charges in a related case involving his payments to Daniels and model Karen McDougal. Cohen was refunded the payments by Trump, whose company recorded the refunds as “legal fees.”
Trump could face a maximum sentence of four years if convicted of a low-level crime, although jail time is not mandatory and it does not prevent him from running for president .
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