Federal judge rejects Trump claim of immunity from Jan. 6 prosecution

 December 10, 2023

Earlier this month, Judge Tanya Chutkan, presiding over Donald Trump's federal 2020 election interference case, rejected the former president's claims that he is immune from prosecution in the matter, as The Hill reported, dealing a blow to his hopes of sidestepping one of the four trials he currently faces.

While the outcome was certainly a setback for Trump, Chutkan's ruling will not be the final phase of what has become a heated, ongoing legal battle.

Trump's position

The arguments on which Chutkan ruled were raised by Trump back in October, when he contended that his conduct ahead of the Jan. 6 unrest at the U.S. Capitol is covered under the broad umbrella of presidential immunity.

As such, he argued, special counsel Jack Smith's decision to bring charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, to obstruct the certification of the election, and of a conspiracy “against the right to vote and to have one's vote counted” is contrary to law.

Trump also referenced his second impeachment process, in which he was acquitted by the Senate on allegations related to the same conduct at issue in the instant case, but Chutkan saw no relevance to any suggestion that prohibitions against double jeopardy would apply.

The former president also contended that the indictment itself represented a violation of his right to due process as well as of his First Amendment free speech rights.

Chutkan unmoved

Rejecting Trump's position in a 48-page decision, Chutkan said, “Whatever immunities a sitting President may enjoy, the United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong 'get-out-of-jail-free' pass. Former Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability.”

Chutkan added, “Defendant's four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens.”

Taking aim at Trump's reference to the second of his two impeachment proceedings, Chutkan said, “But neither traditional double jeopardy principles nor the Impeachment Judgment Clause provide that a prosecution following impeachment acquittal violates double jeopardy.”

With regard to the former president's First Amendment angle, Chutkan held firm, writing, “But it is well established that the First Amendment does not protect speech that is used as an instrument of a crime, and consequently the Indictment – which charges Defendant with, among other things, making statements in furtherance of a crime – does not violate Defendant's First Amendment rights.”

Appeal notice filed

As expected, Trump last week filed notice that he intends to appeal Chutkan's early December ruling, as NBC News reported.

Further, in a separate act, Trump's legal team sought a stay on further proceedings in the matter until the aforementioned appeal is decided.

The former president's lawyers have asked that Chutkan rule on the stay request within seven days, or at least provide for a temporary administrative pause so that a full stay can be requested of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Though the trial in the Jan. 6 case is due to begin on March 4, 2024, the protracted nature of this battle and its associated appeals may render such an expedited schedule impossible, but only time will tell.

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