Home Alone 2: Lost in New York star Donald Trump has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury. While the indictment remains under seal, and we don’t officially know the specific charges, it is believed to involve Trump’s hush payments made to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.
This is the first time in U.S. history that a current or former president has faced criminal charges. This is uncharted waters for our political system, and the question on everyone’s mind is: What now? If you’re the former president reading this, or if you’re facing an unrelated indictment of your own (so sorry your thunder has been stolen), here’s what you can expect.
What is an indictment?
First things first, let’s clarify what an indictment is — and what it is not. An indictment issued by a grand jury means there is formal accusation that a person has committed one or more crimes. To obtain an indictment, prosecutors must present an adequate basis for criminal charges to a grand jury in a secret proceeding. A grand jury indictment is required for all federal felonies.
(Side bar here: “Grand jury” isn’t called that because it means “special” or “important” jury. It derives its name from the fact that it usually has a greater, or grander, number of jurors than a trial jury.)
An indictment is not a conviction. That being said, federal prosecutors are highly successful in convicting the vast majority of people indicted. Pew Research Centre showed in 2019 that federal prosecutors’ conviction rate is over 99%.
There is also a difference between being indicted versus being charged. Both are steps in moving a criminal case toward trial, but the main difference is grand juries file indictments and prosecutors file charges. PrisonProfessors explains that not all charges result in a formal indictment, but all indictments contain charges.
The path from indictment to final resolution can take years, so let’s take a look at what we can expect now.
What happens after an indictment?
The next step following the grand jury indictment is the arrest. More specifically, after prosecutors secure an indictment, they must obtain an arrest warrant.
As to what that arrest physically looks like for a certain someone this week? According to the New York Times, while most defendants arrested on felony charges get handcuffed, “it is unclear whether an exception will be made for a former president.” For instance, it’s typical for some white-collar defendants to have their hands secured in front of them, as opposed to the classic behind-the-back look.
Trump posted earlier this week that he would be arrested, but as the Washington Post points out, he also has the option to voluntarily turn himself in — thus avoiding the need for law enforcement to physically bring him into custody.
What are the next steps?
To review: First step, indictment — check. Next up, the arrest (or voluntary surrender). Here are the next steps to get to a final resolution, as outlined by the Washington Post.
Process as a defendant. Finger printing, mug shot, the whole nine yards. Whether Trump gets arrested or turns himself in, he’s getting that mug shot.
Arraignment. A person accused will typically appear before a federal Magistrate Judge within 24-72 hours after the arrest. This is the public court appearance where the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. Usually it’s “not guilty.” Trump is expected to appear in court on Tuesday.
At Trump’s arraignment, a judge will determine whether the former president needs to pay bail or adhere to certain restrictions pending a trial — or whether he could be released with no bail or restrictions, aka “released on personal recognizance.”
Pretrial hearings. This is where the defence motions to dismiss charges, exclude evidence, request witnesses, and so on.
The trial. This is the main show, where the defendant is either found not guilty (and acquitted of all charges) or guilty (and sentenced accordingly). It looks like Trump’s upcoming court battle will be the backdrop of his third bid for the presidency in 2024. This is not a typical feature of most criminal proceedings, so if you were just indicted and feel insecure about your shot at the presidency, don’t be too hard on yourself.
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