Media speculation erupts over whether Judge Merchan will sentence Trump to prison

 June 4, 2024

Former President Donald Trump was convicted by a New York jury last week on 34 felony counts of falsification of business records and will face sentencing on that conviction in a hearing scheduled for July 11, just days before the Republican National Convention begins, during which he is expected to be formally named the GOP nominee for the 2024 election.

The big question on everybody's mind now is whether presiding New York Judge Juan Merchan is "crazy enough" to sentence Trump to actual prison time, according to National Review.

Typically, jail time would be highly unlikely for an elderly first-time offender convicted of a nonviolent crime, but given the polarizing nature of the defendant and his behavior plus the zeal with which he was prosecuted, not to mention the political ramifications of the entire ordeal, this case has been anything but typical.

Judge Merchan has a variety of options and considerations

CBS News reported that former President Trump faces a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each of the 34 counts he was convicted of, meaning there is a slim possibility that Judge Merchan could order Trump to serve as many as 136 years behind bars, if directed to serve consecutive instead of concurrent sentences for each count, and pay a $170,000 fine.

That is, of course, rather extreme, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, Merchan could also order no jail time in favor of a period of probation plus community service and a nominal fine as punishment for the former president who is currently seeking a second term in office.

There is also a sort of middle ground in which the judge could impose a sentence of home confinement enforced by electronic monitoring that would keep Trump constrained to a single location but still allow for virtual campaigning, holding news conferences, and posting on social media by the presumptive GOP nominee.

What sort of sentence Merchan ultimately decides to hand down on Trump will be contingent upon a variety of different factors, including Trump's age and first-time offender status, the nonviolent and essentially victimless nature of the purported crimes, and the unique security concerns and accommodations for a former president with lifetime Secret Service protection, as well as other things like Trump's behavior throughout the proceedings and whether or not he will ever accept responsibility and express remorse for his actions.

Whichever of the several options the judge ultimately chooses, there will likely be a delay before the sentence is served as Trump will undoubtedly appeal the conviction and seek a stay of any punitive measures until the appellate process has been fully exhausted.

Arguments for and against incarceration for Trump

The New York Times on Sunday published two competing views on whether or not former President Trump should be sent to prison following his conviction last week, with the first essay being in favor of incarceration by Norm Eisen, an attorney who served House Democrats during Trump's first impeachment trial and who has written a book documenting the former president's alleged 2020 election-related crimes.

Undoubtedly owing to his anti-Trump bias, Eisen completely ignored his own analysis of thousands of other falsification of business records convictions in New York which found that only around 10% of those convictions resulted in any time behind bars, and instead argued that Trump's attitude and behavior, not to mention other alleged crimes, pending prosecutions, and prior civil judgments, all demanded that Trump be imprisoned for some indeterminate period.

On the other hand, retired federal Judge Nancy Gertner opined on why she would not incarcerate the former president if she were in Judge Merchan's unenviable position, and though she acknowledged some of the same factors pointed out by Eisen suggested prison time was necessary, she ultimately concluded that the "factors pointing to imprisonment are outweighed by Mr. Trump’s unique position."

WaPo editor suggests 60 days in jail plus six months community service

Then there is Ruth Marcus, an associate editor for The Washington Post, who assumed the role of Judge Merchan for an op-ed in which she suggested that former President Trump should receive a 60-day prison sentence plus six months of community service, to be delayed until after the appellate process was complete, if not stayed until after a second term in office was finished if he wins re-election in November.

Marcus weighed the various factors for and against incarceration that were raised by others but came down on the side of believing that some measure of punishment was necessary.

Of course, nobody but Merchan knows how he will rule following the July 11 sentencing hearing, and until then everyone will just have to continue speculating on what that final sentence will ultimately be.

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