Former President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at...

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower on May 31. Credit: AP/Julia Nikhinson

Former President Donald Trump's sentencing in his Manhattan hush money trial will be postponed until September after Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision granting all presidents immunity from criminal prosecution threatened to upend the conviction.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan in a letter to both parties on Tuesday set a Sept. 18 date to hear his punishment after a jury convicted him in May on 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide his affair with adult-film star Stormy Daniels from voters.

“The July 11, 2024, sentencing date is therefore vacated,” the judge wrote.

Trump faces up to 4 years in prison for each count of falsifying business records, a Class E felony, but it's likely, legal experts say, that he would not receive any time behind bars. The judge would likely factor his age, that he has no criminal record and the fact that this is a nonviolent offense into account when deciding his punishment.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Former President Donald Trump's sentencing in his Manhattan hush money trial will be postponed until the fall after Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision granting all presidents immunity from criminal prosecution threatened to upend the conviction.
  • New York State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan in a letter to both parties on Tuesday set a Sept. 18 date to hear his punishment after a jury convicted him in May on 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide his affair with adult-film star Stormy Daniels from voters.
  • Trump faces up to 4 years in prison at his sentencing.

Prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office had agreed on Tuesday to the delay, saying that they need extra time to counter the defense team’s request to set aside the verdict in light of the high court's decision.

“Although we believe defendant's arguments to be without merit,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass wrote in his response, “we do not oppose his request for leave to file and his putative request to adjourn sentencing pending determination of his motion.”

On Monday, the former president’s lawyer Todd Blanche filed a letter to Merchan, asking the judge for time to file legal papers to overturn the jury’s decision.

“The verdicts in this case violate the presidential immunity doctrine and create grave risks of ‘an executive branch that cannibalizes itself,’ ” Blanche wrote, citing the high court’s ruling.

In May, after a six-week trial, a Manhattan jury found Trump guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide reimbursements to Michael Cohen in order to cover up hush money payments Trump's former fixer made to Daniels to cover up an alleged sexual tryst.

During the trial, Blanche argued that testimony involving Trump’s tweets and public comments that he made while in office should not be heard by the jury because of presidential immunity.

The former president is facing three other prosecutions: a state charge in Georgia and two federal cases, one in Florida and another in Washington, D.C. — which alleges that Trump plotted to undermine the 2020 presidential election.

In the D.C. case, called Trump v. The People of the United States, lawyers for the former president argued to strike evidence from being allowed in the case because he was acting in his official capacity as president of the United States.

That argument was rejected by two lower courts, but the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday found in a landmark decision that presidents are immune from criminal charges, not only when acting in their official capacity, but also in actions that are on the “outer perimeter” of their duties. Further, the court ruled that there is a presumption of immunity that prosecutors must overcome before they can bring charges against the commander in chief.

“Under Trump, this official-acts evidence should never have been put before the jury,” Blanche wrote to the judge. “Consistent with arguments that we made before and during the trial, the Supreme Court held in Trump that President Trump ‘may not be prosecuted for exercising his core constitutional powers, and he is entitled, at a minimum, to a presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official acts.’ ”

Blanche had argued that the hush money case should not have gone forward until the Supreme Court decided on the case, but Merchan denied that motion.

“At trial and during summations, [Manhattan prosecutors] placed highly prejudicial emphasis on official-acts evidence, including witness testimony regarding events in the Oval Office that [prosecutors] described as 'devastating,'” Blanche wrote.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks to reporters after a jury...

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks to reporters after a jury found former President Donald Trump guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records on May 30, 2024. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office asked for a July 24 deadline to file its response to the defense motion.

Legal experts say the high court’s ruling has raised more questions than it answered.

“We are in uncharted territory,” Mark Zauderer, a trial and appellate attorney in Manhattan.

He said that once the arguments from both sides are filed, the judge will have to decide whether or not the tweets and other communications mentioned by the defense lawyer fall under the official acts mentioned in the Supreme Court ruling.

“There is a serious legal issue as to whether the conviction stands, because if it's found that the conviction was based on substantial evidence that the Supreme Court would say now would be inadmissible in other words, like communications between that are covered by the immunity, then there could possibly be a new trial,” he said.

Zauderer said that under New York State law, there’s a legal principle referred to as the “harmless error rule,” which means that if the inadmissible evidence was not central to the jury’s verdict, the outcome stands.

It would be Merchan’s call as to whether or not the trial testimony at issue was central to the prosecution’s case.

“There's a gray area between on the one hand, would be inconsequential [evidence], and on the other hand, what would lead the court to think that it could have affected the jury,” the attorney said. “If the inadmissible evidence is strong enough, is significant enough, a court could say, look, certainly very possible that the jury based its verdict on inadmissible evidence.”

The judge could let the conviction stand and go through with the sentencing, leaving it for the appellate court to determine how the Supreme Court’s decision affects the case or if the “harmless error rule” applies, Zauderer said.

“I think that it would be a fool's errand at this point to reach any conclusion as to what the trial judge or the Appellate Division might do on this question,” he said. “Remember, the Supreme Court decision sets down guidelines, but how to apply that and in what circumstances to afford immunity is still uncertain.” 

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