Eric Thompson

Judge in Trump Trial Tells Jurors They Don’t Need to Agree on Crimes to Convict

In the high-profile trial concerning former President Donald Trump’s business records falsification, the instructions provided to the jury by Judge Juan Merchan have come under scrutiny from legal experts. The trial, unfolding in New York, has drawn intense public interest and legal analysis as it delves into allegations of financial misconduct.

Judge Merchan’s directive to the jury, indicating that unanimity on specific crimes is not required for conviction, has raised questions among legal scholars regarding the standard of proof and the interpretation of the law. The trial centers on allegations of falsifying business records, a serious charge that carries significant legal ramifications.

“Although you must conclude unanimously that the defendant conspired to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means, you need not be unanimous as to what those unlawful means were,” the judge said.

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The three alleged unlawful means that jurors are to consider are: violations of federal campaign finance law; falsification of other business records, such as bank records or tax forms; and violation of city, state, and federal tax laws, including by providing false or fraudulent information on tax returns, regardless of whether it resulted in underpayment of taxes or not.

As the trial progresses, the nuances of the law and the application of legal principles come to the forefront. Judge Merchan’s instructions to the jury underscore the complexities inherent in navigating the legal terrain and arriving at a just verdict.

Legal experts express concern over the potential implications of the judge’s guidance, particularly regarding the threshold for conviction. Professor Jonathan Turley , a constitutional law expert, expressed is concern on (X), emphasizing the importance of clarity in jury instructions.

“Merchan just delivered the coup de grace instruction,” Mr. Turley wrote on X. “He said that there is no need to agree on what occurred. They can disagree on what the crime was among the three choices.  Thus, this means that they could split 4–4–4 and he will still treat them as unanimous.”

The trial’s focus on allegations of business records falsification requires a meticulous examination of the evidence presented and the application of relevant legal standards. Judge Merchan’s instructions play a pivotal role in shaping the jury’s understanding of the law and its implications for the case at hand.

(Left) Judge Juan M. Merchan poses in his chambers in New York City, on March 14, 2024. (Right) Former President Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on March 25, 2024.

Critics of the trial argue that the judge’s directive may introduce ambiguity into the deliberation process, potentially undermining the integrity of the verdict. Attorney Alan Dershowitz highlights the significance of unanimity in criminal trials, stating, “In a criminal case, the jury must agree on the theory of guilt.”

However, supporters of the trial maintain that Judge Merchan’s instructions adhere to established legal principles and ensure a fair and impartial deliberation process. They emphasize the importance of allowing jurors to consider the evidence presented and reach a verdict based on their collective assessment of the facts.

The trial’s outcome hinges on the jury’s ability to weigh the evidence and apply the law in reaching a decision. As the proceedings unfold, legal experts closely monitor developments in the courtroom, analyzing the implications of Judge Merchan’s instructions for the case at hand.

This sheds light on the controversy surrounding Judge Merchan’s instructions to the jury in the Trump business records falsification trial. Legal experts’ concerns regarding the standard of proof and the interpretation of the law underscore the complexities inherent in navigating the legal landscape. Ultimately, the trial’s outcome will depend on the jury’s careful consideration of the evidence and its adherence to the principles of justice.


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