In a historic first, an ex-president and current presidential candidate was convicted on felony charges. This is not the end of the matter, though. In some ways, it’s just beginning.

A Quick Note on the Next Steps

Sentencing is scheduled for early July. While imprisonment is an option, it’s unlikely, considering the charges and novel issues in the case. Trump is also a first-time offender at 77 years old. He has been out on bond for the duration of the trial, and he has already indicated his plans to appeal.

Trump will undoubtedly ask to remain out on bail while he appeals. And should the sentencing or appeal go past the election and Trump wins, he would be almost certain not to go to jail as it would interfere with presidential duties. It is more likely that sentencing will include fines, probation, and community service. As has been widely noted, the conviction does not prevent him from being elected president.

Trump has several potential grounds to appeal, including:

  • Procedural matters, such as discovery issues and motions to dismiss the case
  • Objections made during the trial, like the judge’s allowing certain witness testimony

Trump might also appeal one or several jury instructions. Any motion the judge denied could be grounds for appeal. Trump will likely appeal on as many issues as possible. Trump and his attorneys have already indicated they plan to appeal as quickly as possible.

Still, the appeals process will take at least several months to complete, and it is likely to take much longer.

Criminal Appeal Basics

Every criminal defendant has the right to appeal their case. However, you must appeal on legal grounds. This is important to note because an appellate court is unable to determine facts. Fact-finding is the role of the jury in a criminal trial.

For example, an appellate court cannot find certain witness testimony unreliable or second-guess the jury’s conclusions. The defendant cannot introduce new evidence; the appellate court must decide legal issues based on the trial record.

The ultimate goal of a criminal appeal is to have the appellate court declare a mistrial. An appellate court does not determine guilt or innocence; instead, it decides whether there were enough issues that the defendant did not receive a fair trial.

If the appellate court does find a significant legal error that affected the trial, it will declare the verdict invalid. The prosecution can then decide whether to retry the case. Prosecutors do not violate double jeopardy if they retry a defendant after a mistrial.

Trump’s Legal Grounds for Appeal

Effectively, every criminal trial contains grounds for an appeal. In this case, Trump could explore several options. Below are a few grounds for appeal, although Trump is likely to appeal on more.

Allowing Explicit Testimony of Sexual Encounter

The testimony most are pointing to as grounds for an appeal is that of Stormy Daniels. During the trial, the adult film star described the sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006. Judge Juan Merchan allowed it (and the prosecution wanted to introduce it) to establish Stormy Daniels’ credibility about their relationship and what happened.

However, Trump’s team will likely argue that this testimony was irrelevant to falsifying documents and prejudicial. Trump’s lawyers sought to declare a mistrial during this testimony, in part likely to have grounds for an appeal (strategic objections like this are common during the course of a trial).

Limiting Testimony on Campaign Finance Laws

They may also challenge Judge Merchan’s decision not to allow testimony from Bradley Smith regarding campaign finance law, a unique aspect of this case.

The judge told the defense team that Smith, who served on the federal election commission, could give background information but could not testify regarding whether Trump violated campaign finance laws. Because of this, the defense did not call on Smith to testify.

Issues With a Novel Prosecution

Trump could also appeal the nature of the felony charges. Typically, the charges against Trump regarding falsifying documents would be misdemeanors under New York state law.

However, the prosecution in the case argued that the charges rose to felonies due to his attempt to influence the 2016 election. However, he was not convicted of any specific violation of campaign finance laws.

Other Potential Grounds

It is also possible the defense team will argue that the trial took place in an improper venue and that Judge Merchan did not have jurisdiction over the case.

The defense also asked Judge Merchan to recuse himself for bias based on his daughter’s actions, who has participated in Democratic fundraising campaigns. However, the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics found that Merchan did not have to recuse himself.

A Lot to Be Decided

The process is far from over, even if we exclude the three other criminal trials Trump is facing. The only thing that’s certain is that America will be in unique territory over the next several months.

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