The Trump indictment is a legal embarrassment

By | April 5, 2023

Jed Handelsman Shugerman writes:

Astonishingly, the district attorney’s filings do not make clear the core crime that would turn a filing misdemeanor into a felony. Neither the 16-page indictment nor the accompanying statement of facts specifies, though the statement of facts does drop hints about campaign laws. In a news conference, Mr. Bragg answered that he did not specify because he was not required to by law. His answer was oblivious to how law requires more than doing the minimum to the letter — it demands fairness, notice and taking public legitimacy seriously.

As a result of all this, Mr. Trump and the public still know shockingly little about the case — not which particular statute he allegedly violated or whether it is a state or federal campaign crime, a tax crime or something else. That’s why the indictment really contains only 34 half-counts. This open-ended indictment reflects a rule that jurors don’t have to agree on which underlying crime was committed, only that there had been an underlying crime, yet it is also standard when charging some cases to specify “crimes in the alternative.”

Giving only partial notice might be standard operating procedure in Manhattan, but that standard procedure — suddenly in the bright lights yesterday — seems like a systemic infringement of a New Yorker’s right to know “the nature of the charges and evidence against you,” a normalized Sixth Amendment violation. On the bright side, maybe the backlash will force Manhattan prosecutors to end this general practice. Still, it is hard not to ask whether Mr. Trump was actually treated worse than other similarly situated defendants, because after so many years of delay, surely a Manhattan prosecutor would have informed another defendant of at least the basic underlying crimes and their statutory basis.

The public could be forgiven for imagining that Mr. Bragg has not settled on his own theory. Unfortunately, he has given fodder to those who would portray this case as a political prosecution still in search of a legal theory. [Continue reading…]