Written by Ashton Snyder on
 June 24, 2024

Supreme Court Rulings Spark Debate Over Trump Trial

Jonathan Turley has raised concerns about the handling of Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York.

Newsweek reported that Jonathan Turley's opinion piece suggests that the Supreme Court's recent rulings could significantly impact Trump's trial in New York, which he calls the "greatest indictment" following Trump's conviction by a Manhattan jury.

Jonathan Turley, a legal analyst, shared his views in an opinion piece published in The Hill on Saturday, describing New York's judiciary as a "legal wasteland." Turley criticized the jury instructions in Trump's trial, which left room for a nonunanimous decision regarding a secondary crime. He referenced Supreme Court cases Gonzalez v. Trevino and Erlinger v. United States to advocate for broader legal protections that he feels should have applied to Trump’s trial.

Supreme Court Decisions Highlight Legal Protections

In Gonzalez v. Trevino, the Supreme Court found that the lower court had an "overly cramped view" of precedent, thus allowing Sylvia Gonzalez another chance to pursue her retaliation claim. Meanwhile, in Erlinger v. United States, the court ruled that a unanimous jury is necessary to decide if past offenses occurred on separate occasions beyond a reasonable doubt.

Donald Trump was convicted on 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, making him the first former U.S. president to be convicted of felony crimes. Turley asserts that Trump's trial in Manhattan has turned the city into a "legal wilderness" where political motivations drive prosecutions.

Turley is particularly concerned about the jury instructions' failure to require unanimity on the secondary crime. He claims this divergence from Supreme Court rulings erodes fundamental legal protections for defendants.

Legal Experts Weigh In

Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney, dismissed Turley's comparisons as inappropriate, likening them to "apples and oranges." She noted that the Trump trial aligned with the principle that a jury must find every element of a crime unanimously.

McQuade emphasized that while some aspects of the secondary charges were not unanimous, this does not contradict the law, which necessitates unanimous findings for crime elements but allows for variability in the "manners and means" of committing the crime. She also pointed out that falsifying business records charges have been pursued multiple times by the Manhattan DA, drawing parallels to previous cases involving campaign finance violations.

Cheryl Bader, a legal expert, rebutted Turley's critique of Judge Juan Merchan’s jury instructions. Bader clarified that under New York law, unanimity is required for the existence of crime elements but not for how the crime was committed. She explained that this distinction separates Trump’s case from those focused on sentencing enhancements.

Implications of the Verdict

Turley sees these Supreme Court decisions as a defense of ultimate legal rights that should have been extended to Trump. He predicts that while Trump may encounter difficulties in the New York court system initially, the verdict could eventually be overturned on appeal.

Trump, who maintains his innocence and claims political bias drives the charges, intends to appeal. The appeal process may lean on these recent Supreme Court rulings to argue for broader legal protections.

The Supreme Court decisions in Gonzalez v. Trevino and Erlinger v. United States reiterate essential constitutional principles about jury unanimity and defendant rights. Turley contends that such protections were overlooked in Trump's case, potentially leading to an unjust conviction.

Jonathan Turley's opinion offers a perspective that contrasts sharply with the conclusions drawn by McQuade and Bader. Regardless of differing views, the intersection of Supreme Court rulings and high-profile trials like Trump’s case signals an ongoing scrutiny of America’s judicial proceedings.

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