Everything Judge Merchan Told Trump Jurors

everything judge merchan told trump jurors

Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom during his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday in New York City. The court held a pre-charge conference in the afternoon to determine the jury instructions that the judge will deliver next week.

The prosecution and defense have official rested their case in Donald Trump's criminal hush money trial, and the jury will return next week to determine the former president's fate.

Judge Juan Merchan held a pre-charge conference on Tuesday afternoon to help attorneys determine how the instructions to jurors will look when they come back. Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in relation to the $130,000 paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Because courts avoid taking large breaks between closing arguments and jury instructions, Merchan has pushed summations to after Memorial Day weekend.

Jurors will return to court on Tuesday to hear closing arguments and the judge expects to give his instructions the following day. Merchan anticipates that it will take him an hour to deliver his remarks and that deliberations will start thereafter.

Here's how the court is deciding to instruct jurors in Trump's trial:

What Jury Will Hear

Merchan agreed that the instructions would refer to star witness Michael Cohen as "accomplice," which is the language prosecutors noted was used by New York's Criminal Jury Instructions (CJI), rather than by name, as the defense wanted.

Merchan said that "a lot of smart people did a lot of hard work to come up with" the CJI and so, he wouldn't "deviate" from those standard instructions unless necessary. The jury will also hear that Cohen "participated in and was convicted of crimes."

The defense wanted jurors to be instructed to put away any prejudice against Trump—similar to instructions in The Trump Organization's tax fraud trial—and the prosecution agreed, offering a version that included more neutral language.

What Jury Won't Hear

The defense wanted jurors to hear that there are no limits on what a candidate is allowed to contribute to their own campaign, and that Trump would have had enough wealth to pay the $130,000 that went to Daniels out of his own pocket if he wanted. Merchan said he would not give this instruction but told Trump's lawyers they could argue this in their closing statements.

Trump's lawyers also wanted the judge to inform the jury that hush money payments and non-disclosure agreements are not illegal, but prosecutors argued that would require Merchan to make the defense's argument for them. The judge agreed.

Additionally, Trump's team wanted Merchan to add to the phrase "for the purpose of influencing any election" and tell jurors that such influence would require "proof that the activity clearly and unambiguously related to President Trump's campaign." Merchan said doing so would further confuse the jury and that there would be other language in his instructions aimed at making that distinction.

The jury will not hear about two different intents. Trump's attorneys had wanted instructions to evaluate intent of concealing another crime, but prosecutors successfully argued that that there was no reason to change the statute.

Further, there will not be instructions limiting the jury about the testimony on the Access Hollywood tape nor any instructions telling jurors that there's a possibility there could be some lost data from the cellphones on which Cohen recorded several conversations.

Merchan also won't be instructing jurors about any advice of counsel argument—a defense Trump's team previously tried to argue. Trump attorney Emil Bove tried Tuesday to revive the argument, saying that the involvement of lawyers would bear on Trump's intent, but Merchan shut him down, calling him "disingenuous" for trying to raise it again and warned him not to repeat the argument.

What Could Still Come

Merchan reserved decision on a number of the issues raised during the conference.

One of those included whether or not to tell jurors that federal election law needs "willful" violation. Because the crime of falsifying business records is elevated to the felony only when it's done to conceal another crime, jurors will need to determine whether the hush money payment was made as part of a conspiracy to commit election interference.

The prosecution argued that because there only needs to be intent to commit another crime, rather than the completion of a second crime, "there's no need to add willful."

Merchan also said he's reserving decision on whether to include examples about how a political candidate's status does not need to be the only motivation, and whether to strike instructions about when a person causes a false entry in business records.

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