Grilling of potential jurors in Trump trial begins

Published April 17, 2024
Former US President Donald Trump walks towards the courtroom for the start of the second day of his trial in Manhattan Criminal Court, New York City, New York, US on April 16, 2024 — Reuters
Former US President Donald Trump walks towards the courtroom for the start of the second day of his trial in Manhattan Criminal Court, New York City, New York, US on April 16, 2024 — Reuters

NEW YORK: Prosecutors began grilling prospective jurors in Donald Trump’s historic criminal trial on Tuesday, kicking off a grueling process in which both sides will look to weed out biased panelists.

No other US ex-president has faced a criminal trial and the pressure is high on defence attorneys and prosecutors to get a dozen jurors able to sit in judgement on a man running to return to the White House this November.

After a preliminary phase in which prospective jurors could opt out if they felt unable to be impartial, the prosecution began detailed questioning of an initial panel of 12, with Trump’s defence team to follow.

The high bar in a criminal trial means that to convict Trump of his alleged fraud in a scheme to cover up an embarrassing alleged extramarital encounter with a porn star will require a unanimous jury. Even one dissenting voice would see him walk free.

Frustrated former president vents his rage on day two of historic trial

The painstaking process was expected to take as long as two weeks before arguments can even begin, eating deep into the presidential campaign.

Trump, 77, has been ordered by Judge Juan Merchan to attend daily and on arrival on Tuesday for the second day the Republican was fuming.

“I should be right now in Penn­sylvania and Florida — in many other states, North Carolina, Georgia — campaigning,” Trump said, calling Merchan, “Trump-hating.”

Trump ‘undeterrable’

Merchan has warned Trump against repeating his frequent past attempts to turn hearings into impromptu campaign appearances with outbursts at witnesses and staff, as well tirades on social media.

The judge has already scheduled a hearing next week to consider whether Trump should be held in contempt for violating a partial gag order restricting him from attacking individuals connected to the case.

“Trump is probably largely undeterrable because he believes he is advancing his political agenda and will gain votes,” Columbia Law School professor John Coffee said.

Illustrating the extraordinary tension, potential jurors have been told they will remain anonymous to the public throughout. Merchan said this is to protect them from possible bribery or physical harm. But selecting 12 ordinary citizens to judge one of the most famous — and controversial — figures in the country is no easy matter.

Of the first batch of 96 prospective panelists sworn in for screening on Monday, at least 50 were quickly excused after they said they could not be fair and impartial.

Nine others were allowed to leave after stating there were compelling reasons they could not serve, while remaining prospective jurors were grilled about their education, hobbies and news consumption.

Political peril

Trump faces three other criminal cases centered on his hoarding of top-secret documents after leaving office and his unprecedented attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2024

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