Prof. D. Shultz: Assessing the Trump Criminal Convictions - MRU

3 June, 2024
Prof. D. Shultz: Assessing the Trump Criminal Convictions

U.S. Prof. David Schultz, an expert on U.S. elections, is a member of the MRU Justice LAB.

On 30 May 2024, a New York City jury unanimously convicted former US President Donald Trump on all 34 counts of business fraud. This conviction both changes everything and potentially nothing in US law and politics.

Legal Impact

This case is a first in the United States. Donald Trump is the first former President ever to be convicted of a felony.

Moving forward, he will have 30 days to appeal his decision. Appeal will go through the New York state court system and it is unlikely that any appeal would be heard before the November 2024 US elections. Thus Donald Trump will be running for president as a convicted felon. Moreover, sentencing for Donald Trump will take place on 11 July 2024. The sentencing will come four days before the Republican National Convention where Trump will accept his party’s presidential nomination.

Prior to sentencing, as is typical across the country, there will be what's called a pre sentencing investigation and report issued.  It will be a report that examines Trump's background and other factors in terms of determining an appropriate sentence.

Potentially Trump faces up to four years in prison for each of the thirty-four offenses for which he was  convicted.  Realistically, almost nobody is thinking he will go to prison. Given his age, given this is a first offense, and as a non violent offender, more likely he will get some form of probation.

The conviction does not prevent him from running for president although in some states such as Florida where he is a resident, it may prevent him from voting. If Trump were elected as president  he could not issue a pardon for himself because the president can only issue pardons for federal offenses and this conviction was under New York State law.

The significance of the conviction legally is that it establishes the proposition that even presidents or former presidents are held accountable in the law. This is significant for legal development in the United States.

Political Impact

But at the same time, the conviction and possible sentencing brings with it significant political risks potentially impacting the 2024 presidential and other elections.  The exact impact is not clear.

Right now, the US presidential election in the electoral college is exceedingly close. The election is down to about six states that will determine who wins the presidency with effectively no more than 150,000 to 200,000 voters who will decide the outcome. Trump has a slight lead in this in many of these swing states.

Trump’s conviction is likely to motivate his base and give them even more of a reason to show up and vote. Already there are indications that within the first 24 hours of his conviction, Trump raised nearly 35 million US dollars for his campaign.

On the other hand, there are polling data that suggests that a Trump conviction could impact some of those undecided or swing voters. There's very little evidence that Trump’s conviction will change the mind of many if any of the loyal Trump supporters but the question is, what about those undecided? Polls suggest that many of those undecided would be less likely to vote for Trump if he were convicted of a crime. But that does not necessarily mean they would vote for Joe Biden. Instead, it could be that these voters decide not to vote or vote for a third party candidate such as Robert Kennedy Jr.

The overall assessment is that Trump’s conviction will be perhaps one of several variables that might influence voter decisions in 2024. With other factors such as the economy, inflation, Ukraine, and the Israeli Gaza conflict.

Politically also it will be interesting to see how Trump campaigns as a felon.  While his base may not be impacted by his conviction, it is possible that Trump's campaigning may be affected. Normally, individuals who are convicted of felonies in the United States have their passports lifted, and there's restricted mobility in terms of travel. How will the New York State probation and Criminal Justice Department's address an active presidential campaign? We do not have clear answers to this.

Overall this may be the only trial Trump faces before the November 2024 elections. The US Supreme Court is still deciding on questions regarding immunity for Donald Trump arising out of the incidents of six January 2021. That Georgia election interference case needs to be scheduled, as does the Florida case involving allegations that Trump illegally retained classified government documents after he left the presidency. It's still not clear when those cases will go to trial. And what their verdicts could be.