Legal experts conclude Trump could still be elected and sworn in while serving prison time

 January 23, 2024

Even if former President Donald Trump is convicted of some or all of the dozens of federal and state crimes he has been charged with and sentenced to prison, that wouldn't stop him from running for or being elected as president, or even being sworn in and serving in that role, Newsweek reported.

That was the conclusion reached by several legal experts interviewed by the outlet, all of whom noted that there appeared to be no federal laws in existence, at least that apply to Trump, that specifically prohibits a convicted felon or even an inmate serving time behind bars from also running for and holding public office.

Nothing would stop Trump from being elected or sworn in as president from prison

Newsweek asked New York University constitutional law professor Peter Shane whether there was anything that could legally prevent former President Trump from running for or being sworn in as president if he was a convicted felon serving a prison sentence.

Shane told the outlet, "I think the answer is, 'Why not?'. There is no legal requirement regarding where the oath may be given."

Likewise, former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Newsweek, "Legally speaking, there is nothing prohibiting Trump from being president if he is convicted. Theoretically, he could be president or president-elect while in federal prison."

Rahmani doubts that theory will be tested, however, given the likelihood that none of Trump's criminal cases will go to trial or reach the sentencing phase before the election in November, and noted, "It's very unlikely the D.C. election fraud case happens in March, or anytime soon. The case is stayed or paused while Trump appeals presidential immunity to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court."

A similar conclusion was reached by federal attorney Colleen Kerwick, who said, "Felons are not automatically disqualified from running for president. Eugene Debs was allowed to run for president from prison five times as the nominee from the Socialist Party."

Trump faces possibility of more than 700 years in prison

Forbes reported in August 2023 that former President Trump faces a total of 91 charges in four separate criminal indictments, including two at the federal level plus two at the state level in New York and Georgia, and could face a maximum possible combined prison sentence of 717.5 years.

The seven-plus centuries of prison time, while extremely unlikely, is nonetheless a possibility if Trump were to be convicted of every single count against him, given the maximum sentence for each count, and ordered to serve each sentence consecutively.

That includes, at the state level, a maximum of 136 years for the falsifying business records charges in New York and 76.5 years in the Georgia election interference and racketeering case.

At the federal level, it also includes a maximum of 450 years in the classified documents case plus up to 55 years in the election interference case, both prosecuted by Special Counsel Jack Smith.

Trump highly unlikely to serve maximum consecutive sentences, and could potentially pardon himself

Of course, all of that is based on conjecture and the highly unlikely possibility that former President Trump would be convicted on all counts, much less be ordered to serve maximum consecutive sentences for each one, according to an analysis from Politico last year.

What is much more likely is that Trump, given his lack of a prior criminal record -- at least for now -- would only face fines or minimal prison sentences that could be served concurrently, or simultaneously, though sentencing decisions will vary depending upon the different judges presiding over the separate cases and whether they are inclined to show leniency or make an example out of the former president.

One final consideration that could impact potential prison sentences for Trump, raised by CBS News last year, is the unsettled constitutional question of whether Trump, if re-elected, could issue a pardon or commutation for himself to avoid serving time in prison, albeit only for the federal charges as executive clemency doesn't extend to state-level charges and convictions.

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