Trump trial: Judge instructs jury before deliberations begin (2024)

Madeline Halpert

BBC News, in court in New York

  • Published

After more than five weeks, countless hours of testimony and a mountain of documents, a New York judge instructed a jury to make a historic decision: whether Donald Trump is guilty or not guilty of a crime.

On Wednesday, a day after both sides made their final pitches to jurors, Justice Juan Merchan delivered over an hour of deliberation instructions, going over each of the charges and detailing the elements of the alleged crime.

He explained to the 12-person jury the bar that prosecutors have to meet to convict the former president: guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

“It is not sufficient to prove that the defendant is probably guilty,” Justice Merchan told the court. “In a criminal case, the proof of guilt must be stronger than that.”

The former president has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in relation to a hush-money payment made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had sex with Mr Trump. He denies the encounter.

During the morning court session, Justice Merchan delivered a variety of guidelines, advising jurors not to base their decisions on biases or the criminal convictions of other witnesses in the case.

Image source, Reuters

Most crucially, he spelled out in detail prosecutors’ complicated felony case against Mr Trump. They claim he falsified a reimbursem*nt to his fixer for the hush-money payment with the intent to conceal other crimes: violations of state and federal election laws and tax laws.

He told the jury that prosecutors do not need to prove these secondary crimes, nor do jurors need to be in agreement on which specific one Mr Trump committed. They must reach a unanimous verdict on each of the 34 counts, however.

From the start, the defence has denied any wrongdoing and sought to cast doubt on testimony from the prosecution's key witness - Mr Trump’s former fixer and convicted felon Michael Cohen - in an attempt to disprove the larger case.

By Wednesday afternoon, jurors left the Manhattan courthouse without a verdict. They did return to the courtroom in the afternoon, however, seeking specific testimony to help in their deliberations.

When they come back on Thursday morning, they will sift through the requested testimony and once again weigh whether Mr Trump will become the first former president to be convicted of a felony.

Here is what jurors could decide:

1) Trump is found guilty

All 12 members of the jury must agree Mr Trump is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for prosecutors to secure a conviction.

This is the worst-case scenario for Mr Trump, who would become the first major party candidate running for US president as a felon.

He would almost certainly appeal this verdict. His lawyers already have argued for a mistrial on multiple occasions, each time unsuccessfully.

If found guilty, he faces a maximum sentence of four years behind bars per count, or a smaller punishment of probation and a fine. Most experts say the 77-year-old is unlikely to face any time in prison.

"It is a non-violent offence. It's the lowest of the [felony] offences," said former Brooklyn prosecutor Julie Rendelman. "With no record, his age, you name it, it would be highly unlikely."

If Mr Trump was sentenced to time in prison, it would pose a logistical challenge for court officers and Secret Service staff who would be required to protect him in prison.

2) Trump is acquitted

If all12 members of the jury find prosecutors have not proven Mr Trump's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, he would be acquitted of the felony charges, which would be a major blow to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office that brought the case.

It also would be a huge victory for the former president as he bids to return to the White House. While it is still legal for a convicted felon to run for US president, a guilty verdict could hurt his chances with voters.

An acquittal would mean that the prosecution, despite weeks of testimony and hours of questioning high-profile witnesses, including Ms Daniels, Cohen and a former senior Trump aide, failed to convince the Manhattan jury.

Mr Trump has complained daily in the courthouse about the trial, claiming that Judge Merchan and the case against him are unfair, and that he has committed no crime.

He faces three other criminal cases, including over election interference and the 6 January Capitol riot that followed his 2020 election loss, but this case was widely thought to be the only one likely to go to trial before Americans go to the polls on 5 November.

3) It's a hung jury

It only takes one of the 12 jurors to unravel the prosecutors' case.

If the jurors cannot all agree unanimously on a verdict - guilty or not guilty - this will result in a hung jury.

If they report to the judge that they cannot reach a decision, Justice Merchan may instruct them once or twice more to try again to reach a verdict.

But if they still cannot, he would declare a mistrial. Prosecutors would then have to decide on the spot whether they want to retry the case.

Get in touch

What do you want to know about Donald Trump's historic hush-money trial in New York? Our US experts will be answering your questions.

BBC News reporters are in the Manhattan courtroom covering the historic first criminal trial of a former US president. You'll find their updates and analysis on the BBC news website and app, and across TV, radio and podcasts.

Related Topics

  • Stormy Daniels
  • Donald Trump
  • United States
Trump trial: Judge instructs jury before deliberations begin (2024)


Trump trial: Judge instructs jury before deliberations begin? ›

On Wednesday, a day after both sides made their final pitches to jurors, Justice Juan Merchan delivered over an hour of deliberation instructions, going over each of the charges and detailing the elements of the alleged crime.

What do alternate jurors do during deliberations in California? ›

The alternate jurors receive the same instructions as the regular jurors, but only the regular panel goes into the jury deliberation room to decide the case. The bailiff or another deputy will be sworn to take charge of the alternate jurors and to keep them apart from the jury while they are deliberating on the case.

Who is the Trump judge? ›

Judge Aileen Cannon wants to hold additional hearings on Donald Trump's attempts to challenge key evidence in his classified documents case and will allow the former president's lawyers to question witnesses about the investigation and search of Mar-a-Lago.

How does jury selection work in California? ›

As prospective jurors are needed for specific trials or grand juries, jury pools are randomly selected from the list of qualified participants. Panels of prospective jurors are then randomly selected for each jury trial.

What are the duties of the jury foreperson? ›

The jury foreperson's duty is to preside and see that discussion during deliberations is carried on in a free and orderly manner, that the case and issues are fully and freely discussed, and that every juror is given a chance to participate in the discussion.

How do they decide which jurors are alternates? ›

What are alternate jurors? Sometimes, when the judge believes a case is likely to last for more than a day or 2, additional jurors will be chosen from those summoned for jury duty, questioned and challenged like other prospective jurors.

Do alternate jurors hear the entire case and deliberate with the other jurors? ›

Alternate jurors are selected in some cases to take the place of jurors who may become ill during the trial. Alternate jurors hear the evidence just as the other jurors do, but they don't participate in the deliberations unless they replace an original juror.

Are people over 70 exempt from jury duty in California? ›

Q: Do I have to perform jury service if I'm over 70 years of age? A: There is no age exemption for jury service. If you are 70 years of age or older, the California Rules of Court allow you to be excused due to a medical condition without a doctor's note. You must inform the court that you are not able to serve.

What happens if one juror disagrees? ›

In order to reach a verdict, the jurors' decision must be “unanimous,” meaning that all twelve jurors must vote the same way. If even one juror disagrees with the other jurors, it is a “hung jury” and a mistrial will be declared.

What disqualifies you from jury duty in California? ›

Additionally, if any individual is incarcerated in any prison or jail, they are disqualified from jury service. Also, those who are currently required to register as a sex offender pursuant to Section 290 of the Penal Code based on the felony conviction are not eligible for jury service.

Does the jury Foreman read the verdict? ›

The verdict must be in writing, signed by the foreperson or presiding juror, and must be read to the jury by the court clerk or the judge.

What does "voir dire" mean literally? ›

The phrase "Voir Dire" literally means, "to speak the truth." In court, it refers to a process of determining whether a juror can serve fairly and impartially in a given case by asking the juror various questions.

How many jurors are needed for a jury trial in California? ›

The process of questioning and excusing jurors continues until 12 persons are accepted as jurors for the trial. Alternate jurors may also be selected. The judge and attorneys agree that these jurors are qualified to decide impartially and intelligently the factual issues in the case.

Do alternative jurors replace regular jurors who disagree with the majority during deliberations? ›

Alternative jurors replace regular jurors who disagree with the majority during deliberations. In federal courts, defendants are entitled to a 12-person jury unless the parties agree in writing to a smaller jury. The US Supreme Court has ruled that juries do not have to consist of 12 members.

What is the role of the juror during deliberations? ›

Remember that jurors are not advocates, but impartial judges of the facts. By carefully considering each juror's opinion and the reasons behind it, it is usually possible for the jurors to reach a verdict. A juror should not hesitate to change his or her mind when there is a good reason.

How many alternates on a jury in California? ›

Jury Selection:

They are randomly selected to serve on the case and, of these several dozen jurors, twelve are selected to be on the actual jury, along with two to four “alternate” jurors who are selected to potentially fill in for a juror who gets sick or otherwise becomes unavailable.

What are the different styles of jury deliberation? ›

In practice, however, research has found juries will use either a verdict-driven or evidence-driven approach to deliberation. In the verdict-driven approach, jurors take an initial vote and then work backwards to identify the most acceptable verdict option.

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