Donald Trump Could Face Prison, Probation Or A Slap On The Wrist

After being found guilty by a Manhattan jury last week on 34 counts of falsifying business records, former President Donald Trump will soon face the consequences for his crimes. As conjecture swirls about what his sentencing could look like, two Manhattan criminal defense attorneys are cautioning observers to temper their expectations.

When New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan hands down Trump’s sentence next month, he’ll have the option to put the presumptive Republican presidential nominee on probation, give him community service or even incarcerate him.

But because Trump was convicted of Class E felonies — the lowest-tier felony in New York — a more likely sentence may be a simple conditional discharge, Manhattan criminal defense attorney Lance Fletcher told HuffPost.

“A conditional discharge is basically a suspended jail sentence,” said Fletcher, who was a Manhattan assistant district attorney from 2004 to 2008.

If that’s the sentence Merchan goes with, the judge could set rules for Trump to follow for the next three years — including that he can’t break the law — in exchange for sparing him other punishments.

“In other words, you have to go to jail if you don’t do what the judge says,” Fletcher said.

If Merchan sentences Trump to probation, the former president would have to answer to a probation officer rather than a judge. He could also have his interstate travel restricted — an outcome that could severely complicate his 2024 presidential bid.

“I would be shocked if they gave him probation because of all the ways it could invite a legal showdown, including the fact that he’d have to ask permission to travel outside of New York,” Fletcher said.

Robert Tsigler, another Manhattan criminal defense attorney, told HuffPost he believes a conditional discharge would be the most “straightforward” sentence but that modified probation is also possible.

“I’m very confident there would be very special circumstances and conditions and it wouldn’t be the same kind of probation that a regular defendant goes through,” Tsigler said.

Trump might even get slapped with community service, but Fletcher said making someone that high-profile clean up city parks could become a logistical nightmare.

“That would be a massive headache for the court personnel to bring Donald Trump out to a public park and have him pick up trash,” Fletcher said. “You’d have to shut the park down, you’d have protests going on. I don’t know if they’re going to do that just to send a message. I would think there would be a lot of internal pushback to something like that.”

Tsigler said the harsher the sentence against Trump, the more burdensome carrying it out will be. If Trump gets sent to Rikers Island, for instance, his Secret Service detail would have to join him.

“But it’s unprecedented, uncharted territory, so it’s hard to say,” Tsigler said. “The path of least resistance would be a conditional discharge, but do they want to go the path of least resistance? I can’t tell you — that’s something only the judge knows.”

Whatever Merchan’s ruling ends up being, Fletcher said, he thinks it will be a fair one. In 2019, Fletcher argued a criminal case before Merchan that he ended up losing.

“I thought he was very fair,” Fletcher said. “He didn’t give me all the things I applied for, and he didn’t give the prosecution everything they asked for.”

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