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  • Writer's pictureCanniget A. Witness

Teflon Don Finally Got Convicted of a Crime. So what happens next?

Okay, so I haven't written a blog post in a while. I took a job teaching law to high school students in Los Angeles in the fall of 2021. And, as it turns out, teaching law, coaching the mock trial team, creating and running an expungement clinic, grant writing, and all of the other million other duties that I apparently have in this job, has left little time to write blog posts. But now, gentle reader, it is summer. So I have time.

And yes, I know I'm late to the party that is writing about Trump's conviction. But the school year just ended. So here I am.

Okay, so by now, you have probably heard that Donald Trump was convicted in Manhattan, in what has become known as the Hush Money Case. He was convicted of having committed 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.

"What the heck does that mean?" you may ask. So here's what it means.

In the state of New York, they have a law that says that if you are keeping records for a business that you operate in the state of New York, those business records must be truthful. We generally trust businesses to do this. There's even a rule of evidence that says that if you want to produce a business record, like a receipt you got at a grocery store, you can admit that business record into evidence, because business records are an exception to the hearsay rule. (If you really want me to explain the hearsay rule, I will. Please tell me so in the comments.)

Courts are willing to accept business records into evidence because we trust them. So we really want businesses to tell the truth when creating their business records. And if a business lies in their business records, it immediately makes courts wonder: is this business just being sloppy, or are they lying deliberately in an effort to cover up a crime?

In this case, Trump was deliberately lying in his business records to cover up a crime.

Trump broke this New York state law in the following way: he had his lawyer, Michael Cohen, using Michael Cohen's own money, pay Stormy Daniels $130,000.00 to keep her from speaking to the press about a sexual affair that Trump allegedly had with Daniels. Then, Trump used the Donald J. Trump Revokable Trust Account and The Trump Organization to pay Michael Cohen back for the money he paid to Daniels. (A trust is its own business entity. It is taxed separately, and like a corporation, if it's kept going, it has the potential of being around indefinitely.)

Cohen sent invoices to Trump, claiming they were for his legal services, and Trump would send Cohen checks, noting falsely on those checks that they were for Cohen's legal services, when they were actually to pay Cohen back for the hush money payments that Cohen made to Daniels.

And Trump paid Daniels in order to keep her quiet. Trump didn't want Daniels talking to the press about their alleged sexual affair. Trump allegedly had a sexual affair with Daniels while Trump was married to Melania, and shortly after Melania gave birth to Barron. Trump knew that if Daniels told the press about this, it would make him look really bad to voters, and make at least some voters not want to vote for him.

The New York law that Trump was found guilty of breaking is what's called a wobbler. It can be charged against someone as a misdemeanor, or as a felony, depending on the circumstances. The prosecutor in this case decided to charge Trump with a felony, because Trump was lying about his business records in order to commit fraud on the American public in the midst of an election. Trump wanted to hide his alleged affair from the American public so that they would not know about it as they were contemplating whether or not to vote for him.

So why was he found guilty of 34 counts? That's because he was found guilty of committing the same felony 34 separate times, when he made 34 separate transactions broke this law.

Okay, so what does this mean for us now? A couple of questions my students have asked me are: 1. Can he still run for president? and 2. Will he serve any jail time for his convictions? and one question I asked myself was: 3. Could this be appealed to the United States Supreme Court?

The answer to question number one, sadly, is yes. There is nothing in the United States Constitution that says a person can't run for president if they're a convicted felon.

Here's what the Constitution does say about the requirements a person must meet in order to run for president, in Article 2, Section 1:

"No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, or at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible for the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and have been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

That's it, folks. Weird, right? Maybe the dudes who wrote the Constitution couldn't even fathom the idea that someone who was a convicted felon would even have a chance if they tried to run for an office as important and as public as the president of the United States of America. But then, they never met Trump, did they?

By the way, all of the weird capitalization is in the original text of the Constitution, so I kept it in. But students out there: please don't capitalize words unless they're names. It drives your teachers crazy. (Okay, it drives me crazy. But I can't be alone in this!)

As for question 2, I honestly don't know if he will serve any jail time. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 11th, 2024, so we won't know until then. And I have read that his convictions could land him in jail for up to four years. But it's also the first time Trump has been found guilty of a crime, so technically, it's his first offense. So that will probably figure in.

It's also the first time in American history that any former president has been found guilty of a crime. So Trump continues to be a civics lesson for us all.

As for question 3, I don't think he will be able to appeal this case to the United States Supreme Court. Trump wasn't convicted of a federal crime. He was convicted of a state crime. And state criminal convictions don't get heard by the United States Supreme Court unless there is some Constitutional issue at stake, like a search or a seizure, as described by the Fourth Amendment. And I heard that Trump's lawyers tried to get this case moved to a federal court, probably so they would have a chance to appeal to the United States Supreme Court, but their attempts to do so failed. So Trump was found guilty of a state crime.

That being said, the Court is full of Trump's buddies. And Trump did appoint three of them. And this Court has surprised me before. So who knows.

That's it for now. The next case I will cover is the one that concerns presidential immunity for Trump for his actions that led up to his followers storming the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, a day that will live in infamy. So buckle up, buttercup.

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