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Legal Experts Weigh In On Whether Trump Will Go To Prison Over Conviction

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


In the New York hush-money case, former President Donald Trump could potentially be the first former president in U.S. history to be sent to jail.

This could occur as early as next month. In May, a jury found the former president guilty of 34 criminal counts of falsifying business records to unlawfully influence the 2016 presidential election.

Several experts informed ABC News that it’s unlikely the former president will go to prison before the 2024 election. Trump’s sentencing is scheduled for July 11.

Among 14 lawyers and law professors interviewed by ABC News, five thought a prison sentence was probable, two said the decision was uncertain, and seven didn’t think a prison sentence was likely due to enforcement difficulties, lack of precedent for putting first-time offenders in jail, and the potential political impact of such a sentence.

Most experts believed that Trump’s sentence would probably be delayed until after the 2024 election or until his appeal is settled, which could take months to a year. Before that, he would likely not have to serve any part of his sentence.

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“There is no more serious falsification of business records case that I can remember in the history of supervising and prosecuting many of these cases,” said Karen Friedman Agnifilo, who previously served as the chief assistant district attorney in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

The United States Sentencing Commission established a point system that judges typically use to inform their sentencing decisions in federal court.

However, in the case of Trump, Judge Merchan has fewer specific guidelines. According to New York’s penal law, the maximum prison sentence for Class-E felonies is four years. Additionally, probation officials will prepare a report recommending a sentence for Trump, which Judge Merchan can take into account when considering the nature of the crime, as well as Trump’s personal history and character.

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg brought his case using a new legal theory. He claimed that Trump falsified business records to conceal a violation of a New York election law that prohibits conspiracies to influence an election using unlawful means.

Some experts ABC News spoke with were skeptical that Merchan could justify a prison sentence based on individual deterrence; that is, discouraging Trump himself from committing a similar crime again.

Judge Merchan could choose to sentence Trump to a period of probation or a conditional discharge.

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If Trump were sentenced to probation, he would have to report to a probation officer and meet specific conditions. This could include potential travel restrictions or curfews, which could be enforced with the use of an ankle monitor, according to former federal prosecutor Michael Zweiback.

However, enforcing these terms in the middle of his presidential campaign could be challenging, according to New York Law School professor Anna Cominsky.

“The more restrictions on someone’s movement sometimes makes it more difficult for them to live their lives and do their jobs,” Cominsky said. “So when it comes to Trump, part of his job is right now campaigning and traveling around the country. He has to be able to do that.”

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