SCOTUS’s Erlinger Ruling Has Implications for the Trump-Bragg Case


Jonathan Turley noted that today’s Supreme Court ruling in Erlinger has some implications for the Manhattan Bragg case against Donald Trump.

In the Manhattan case, Judge Merchan let the jury pick one of three potential crimes, and their choice didn’t have to be unanimous. None of the choices were crimes Trump committed, but that’s beside the point.

Professor Turley wrote on X:

This could have some interesting analogies to the Manhattan verdict. The court ruled that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments require a unanimous jury to make that insular determinations on the beyond a reasonable doubt standard. It is not directly on point, but one of the objections to the Manhattan trial was based on the instruction that the jury did not have to agree on exactly what happened, specifically which secondary crime was being concealed by the falsification of business records. That meant that there could be a 4-4-4 jury on the key issue of that secondary crime.

Once again, Erlinger is not directly on point. However, the government was arguing that a judge could use a preponderance standard to find that a defendant committed three felonies or serious offenses for the imposition of mandatory prison terms. The Court reaffirmed the need for a unanimous decision under the beyond a reasonable doubt standard on such elements. It amplifies the need for direct and unanimous findings of such key elements to a criminal case. Some of us objected that the Manhattan case followed a dangerously fluid approach to key elements.

In an article on June 3, Jonathan Turley said one of the challenges Donald Trump can use is the unanimity issue.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that the requirement of unanimity in criminal convictions is sacrosanct in our system. While there was unanimity that the business records were falsified to hide or further a second crime, there was no express finding of what that crime may have been. In some ways, Trump may have been fortunate by Merchan’s cavalier approach. Given that the jury convicted Trump across the board, they might have found all of three secondary crimes. The verdict form never asked for such specificity.

The decision in Manhattan will never stand up.


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