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12 ordinary citizens wanted in Donald Trump's extraordinary trial

Photo: Jeenah Moon Associated Press Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over Donald Trump's criminal trial, has indicated that he will dismiss all potential jurors who clearly indicate bias or declare that they cannot judge the case fairly.

Fabien Deglise

April 15, 2024 Analysis

  • United States

History was made in New York on Monday morning with the opening of the very first criminal trial involving a former American president, Donald Trump, accused of having falsified accounting documents to conceal the payment of 'a bribe to a pornographic actress.

This spectacular clash between the populist and the justice system began with the delicate selection of the jury which, in the coming weeks, will have in hand the destiny of the Republican candidate in the presidential election. An exercise complicated both by the impetuous and uncontrollable character of the accused and by the singular and highly publicized nature of this trial.

“The selection of this jury is going to be very difficult, because of the great polarization that has taken hold in our country, but also because of Donald Trump himself, who has been leading a vigorous campaign in the press for months to assert that he should not be prosecuted,” summarizes Valerie Hans, professor of law at Cornell University and a leading authority on criminal trials and jury training in the United States, in an interview. “Of course, the court has several tools at its disposal to overcome these difficulties. And I remain optimistic that the judge and attorneys will succeed in selecting a fair and impartial jury in this case. »

The process, however, is likely to take several days in order to track down prejudices, political inclinations, biases or ulterior motives in the pool of several hundred New Yorkers summoned by the Manhattan court — including 12 people will be carefully extracted in order to decide the guilt (or not) of the ex-president of the United States.

All under the gaze not only of radicalized Republican supporters, but also of Americans as a whole and the rest of the world.

“It won't be easy to find jurors who don't have feelings toward Trump,” says Cheryl Bader, a criminal law specialist at Fordham University, contacted by Le Devoir . “So the key is going to be to find people who don't have too strong an opinion about him, who are going to be able to put aside everything they've heard about this matter, to be able to judge him fairly in a spirit open. »

The exercise is far from being a sinecure in New York, where 70% of the 1.1 million registered voters in Manhattan, the borough where the trial is being held, are Democrats. And where the accused is known as the white wolf, for good and bad reasons.

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His reputation has been built on the rhythm of the buildings that he has created in the sky of the megalopolis since the 1980s, but also on the extravagance of a life, of affairs, of relationships and of escapades meticulously recounted for favor the presence of his name not only at the top of a skyscraper, but also on the front page of the tabloids. An image that has since been greatly tainted by his four chaotic years in the White House, by his attempt to cancel the 2020 elections, by his connections with several autocrats and dictators, and by several recent convictions by the state justice system.

He was notably found responsible for sexual assault against the writer E. Jean Carroll, and a jury sentenced him at the end of January to pay the latter more than $83 million for damages for defamation. His last presence in a city court, as part of a civil trial, ended last February with another conviction for fraud orchestrated within the Trump Organization. He has since faced an exemplary fine of nearly half a billion dollars.

And “the problem with this case” of bribery and falsification of accounting documents, notes Margaret Bull Kovera, professor of law at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, in an interview, “is that it nor is there any other location or jurisdiction to move it to that would not have been exposed to the same high level of publicity.”

All bias rejected

In this context, Judge Juan Merchan, who presides over this historic trial, indicated that he was going to dismiss all the candidate jurors clearly indicating bias or declaring that they could not judge the case fairly — all without the possibility for state prosecutors and defense attorneys to “rehabilitate” such a rejected prospective juror, as can be the case in other less high-profile cases.

“This rehabilitation process is not particularly effective, by the way,” adds Ms. Bull Kovera, who has conducted several research on this strategy as part of her work. “The judge's decision to dismiss any juror who expresses concerns about bias can therefore only result in a jury that is going to be fairer. »

Donald Trump and his lawyers will certainly seek out candidates who question authority and seek “alternative” answers to problems while distrusting government

— Thaddeus Hoffmeister

Another notable decision: Judge Merchan ordered that the anonymity of the jurors be ensured in order to reduce the risk of harassment, manipulation and intimidation “by Trump ultraloyalists”, underlines Cheryl Bader. The Republican billionaire has become an incredible engine of political violence in the United States since his defeat in 2020.

Donald Trump's lawyers will, however, know their identity, but will not have access to their address. The former US president also had a court injunction imposed preventing him from making public all information about the jurors held by his team of lawyers. Crucial information, both for prosecutors and for the defense, from the forms filled out by the candidates, but also from research carried out online by both camps in order to take the pulse of their values ​​and thus try to instill in the jury ideas that would be favorable to them. “Donald Trump and his lawyers are likely to seek out candidates who question authority and seek 'alternative' answers to problems while distrusting government,” predicts Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a law professor at the University of Dayton. in Ohio, joined by Le Devoir.

12 ordinary citizens wanted in Donald Trump's extraordinary trial

Photo: Spencer Platt Getty Images via Agence France-Presse Critics of Donald Trump gathered outside Manhattan Criminal Court for the start of the first-ever criminal trial against a former president of the United States on Monday in New York.

The populist camp should favor white men from the working class, less educated or more receptive to conspiracy, sometimes employed in the public service in maintaining order, security or maintenance; State prosecutors should prefer to look to candidates who are “more educated, who read and listen to more progressive media, but also nuanced thinkers who can approach issues from multiple angles,” says Cheryl Bader.

In passing, the specialist in criminal law however minimizes the importance of this “science”, which she considers uncertain: “Even if it is an important phase of a trial , lawyers overestimate their ability to predict how to vote based on general demographic information and subjecting a candidate to a handful of questions. »

Indeed, for the group of 12 jurors chosen, this decision, this vote, will arrive at the end of several weeks of hearings, evidence, testimony and counter-testimony. Elements which, in the end, undoubtedly remain more decisive in anchoring or undermining the prejudices of a jury – including when it comes to deciding the fate of a former president.

No jurors selected after first day of trial

The first day of Donald Trump's historic trial ended Monday after hours of pretrial motions and a jury selection process that saw dozens of potential jurors dismissed.

Jury selection began in the afternoon. The first possible members have been called into the courtroom, where the parties must decide who among them could be chosen to decide the legal fate of the former and potentially future American president.

More than half of the first group of potential jurors were excused after telling the judge they could not be fair and impartial. At least nine other potential jurors were dismissed after raising their hands when the magistrate asked which ones could not accept for another reason. The motives have not been disclosed.

About 100 other potential jurors were waiting to be called into the courtroom Monday afternoon. Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over this trial, specified that a total of approximately 200 jurors were present at the courthouse for possible selection.

The court adjourned the session without any candidate being chosen. The process, which involves the selection of 12 jurors and six alternates, will resume on Tuesday.

There is no reason to believe that there are not 12 fair and impartial people among the approximately 1.4 million adults living in Manhattan, prosecutors said.< /p>

Associated Press, New York

A previous version of this text indicated that Donald Trump had been convicted in the E. Jean Carroll case. Instead, he was found responsible.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116