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Guest opinion: Why the Manhattan jury won’t convict Trump

By William Cooper - | May 11, 2024

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William Cooper

Donald Trump is finally on trial. And many think he might finally pay for his crimes (or at least some of them). Some even believe a conviction and jail sentence could prevent Trump from retaking the presidency if he wins the election in November.

If only wishing made it so.

Donald Trump isn’t going to jail. And the only thing standing between him and the Oval Office is the ballot box.

Trump has, of course, committed numerous crimes. He deserves to serve time. And the world would be better off if he was forcibly removed from the campaign trail.

But none of that matters. Trump isn’t going to jail because the burden on prosecutors to get him there is simply too high. In a little-noticed case in 2020, the United States Supreme Court held that a unanimous jury verdict is always required to convict someone of a serious crime. Justice Gorsuch, writing for the court, explained that this principle is rooted in the United States Constitution: “This court has repeatedly and over many years recognized that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimity.”

For a prosecutor to obtain a conviction, six to 12 jurors (depending on the jurisdiction) must all agree that a defendant is not only guilty but guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a good standard for the broader population: There should be a very high bar to convict someone of a crime. But it’s quite a loophole for a politician with a historically loyal base and a national political party rallying behind him. The likelihood that Trump can’t nab a single hold-out juror — even in the face of obvious guilt — is extremely low.

So America finds itself neck-deep in yet another Trump-induced exigency, barreling forward into some nebulous jeopardy, the shape and magnitude of which are unclear. Will he strike a deal with prosecutors? Will he win the presidency? Will his other trials occur before or after the election? Hard questions abound. But one conclusion is easy to reach: A unanimous jury isn’t going to convict him.

America’s conscience, however, has already been indicted. It is indeed an alarming commentary on the American polity that Trump’s offenses — whether or not they result in a conviction — don’t rule out his return to office. In a country that imprisons more people per capita than any other developed nation, the guy who tried to overthrow a presidential election not only walks free but is the Republican nominee for president.

A few thousand years ago, Aesop supposedly made an insightful observation about criminal justice: “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

Oh how little has changed.

William Cooper is the author of “How America Works … And Why It Doesn’t.”

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