Legal experts blast Trump's 'excessive' fine

 March 27, 2024

Donald Trump has a strong constitutional argument to make in his fight with attorney general Letitia James (D), legal experts say. 

The Eighth Amendment bans excessive fines, which would appear to apply to Trump's $500 million civil fraud verdict in New York.

An appeals court in the state handed Trump an unexpected victory this week by reducing the bond to $175 million, enabling Trump to delay the seizure of his property while he appeals.

The stunning reversal has left many questioning whether the original ruling from trial judge Arthur Engoron will stand as Trump pursues an appeal.

Trump's excessive fine

One of the most disconcerting aspects of the whole case is the conspicuous absence of a victim, something Engoron himself acknowledged in his ruling.

In addition, Trump's business partners - the banks who he allegedly ripped off - said they liked working with him.

The judgment levied against Trump is "unheard of," John Malcolm, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in Atlanta told Fox News Digital.

One obstacle for Trump's legal defense is that Trump is being subjected to "disgorgement," which refers to the court-ordered retrieval of ill-gotten gains.

Disgorgement is considered a remedial, and not a punitive, action, and therefore it is not clear that the Eighth Amendment's ban on excessive fines would apply.

"However, if it is deemed to be a fine, it would certainly be an 'excessive fine' that would violate the Eight Amendment," Malcolm said.

A mere pretext?

Of course, it doesn't take a legal genius to tell that Trump's verdict looks and smells punitive.

"It's not the only argument or the strongest argument he has, but it's a valid reach because the judgment smells punitive," former Trump lawyer Jim Trusty said.

In addition to slapping Trump with an eye-popping fine, Engoron barred Trump from running any business in New York for three years, a sanction that was reversed by the Appellate Division in its Monday ruling.

Trump has pledged to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.

In 2019, the Supreme Court notably ruled that the Eight Amendment applies to state governments, in an opinion written by the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

At the time, Ginsburg presciently wrote, "excessive fines can be used, for example, to retaliate against or chill the speech of political enemies."

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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