Is Donald Trump going to jail today?
Donald Trump will become the first-ever US president to be charged with a crime on Tuesday when he appears before a judge at Manhattan Criminal Court.
The arraignment is in response to a grand jury indictment announced by New York County district attorney Alvin Bragg over a hush money payment Mr Trump is accused of making to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 to cover up an affair.
Mr Trump, who was also the first president in American history to be impeached twice in his chaotic one-term reign in the White House, jetted into New York’s La Guardia Airport in his personal Boeing 757 on Monday afternoon before heading to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue to spend the night ahead of Tuesday’s historic events.
He faces a reported 34 felony charges related to the falsification of his business records to conceal the $130,000 payment – which was originally made on his behalf by his former attorney Michael Cohen, who was then reimbursed – according to details released on Monday night.
Mr Trump will reportedly not be handcuffed, photographed for a mugshot or placed in a jail when he appears for his arraignment before Judge Juan Merchan at approximately 2.15pm EST (7.15pm GMT) on Tuesday afternoon and will return immediately afterward to his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, in time to give a prime-time televised address.
He will be represented by a new lead counsel, former federal prosecutor and white-collar criminal defence attorney Todd Blanche, in New York, a lawyer who has previously represented Mr Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and the ex-Rudy Giuliani associate Igor Fruman, among many others.
The former president denies the affair with Ms Daniels and any wrongdoing and has, predictably, insisted the episode is just another “witch hunt” cooked up by his political enemies.
He has been busy using the indictment to whip up his base and to raise campaign donations off the back of it in support of his 2024 presidential run.
He has also vented his fury on his own social media platform Truth Social, suggesting angrily on Monday evening that District Attorney Bragg should “indict himself” after leaking details of the arraignment “illegally”.
But the big question many onlookers will want to know is whether Mr Trump could ultimately face prison time if he is found guilty.
Danya Perry, a former deputy attorney-general for the state of New York, told Reuters that will certainly not happen on Tuesday and that she expects Mr Trump will be released on recognisance – a term for an agreement a defendant makes with a court to observe certain conditions, like returning when summoned, for instance.
New York abolished the need for bail in most cases involving misdemeanours and non-violent felonies, as is the case in this instance, in 2019.
As to the outcome for Mr Trump longer term, we cannot know at this point as the precise charges he faces have yet to be made public.
However, the charge of falsifying business records in the first degree is regarded as a low-level felony but does carry a typical sentence of up to four years in prison, so it is theoretically possible.
That said, a conviction would represent a first offence for a non-violent crime, making the prospect of jail less likely.
The defendant’s age, 76, might also provide grounds for a compassionate sentence.
Former Brooklyn prosecutor Arthur Aidala recently told Insider: “I can’t say for absolute 100 per cent certainty there can’t be jail because on the books, he can go to jail… [But] I do not see a scenario where Donald Trump spends one minute in jail.”
The case is expected to be a drawn-out affair and may not be resolved before the American public goes to the polls for the next presidential election in November 2024, so, without a resolution one way or the other, it need not necessarily prohibit Mr Trump from continuing his latest quest to secure the Republican nomination.
Interestingly, even if the former president were to be charged, there is actually nothing in the US Constitution that disqualifies a candidate from running with a criminal record, although he and his party may nevertheless be forced to conclude that the support for him is no longer there if he is seen to be tarnished by the scandal, as almost any other politician around the world would be.