Florida jury could give Trump advantage in classified documents case

Florida jury could give Trump advantage in classified documents case
Florida jury could give Trump advantage in classified documents case

The indictment for classified documents against Donald Trump It would appear, at least on paper, to be the simplest of the four criminal cases facing the former president.

Piles of classified files were hidden in Trump’s office and warehouse and he boastfully showed them to his guests. one of those documents that he acknowledged was “secret”, federal prosecutors alleged. His own lawyer is quoted in the indictment as saying that Trump encouraged him to mislead investigators who demanded the return of the documents, and prosecutors have since obtained the cooperation of a Mar-a-Lago employee which says the former president asked about deleting surveillance footage at the Palm Beach property.

But that doesn’t make the path to conviction easy, particularly now that the case is scheduled to be tried in a Florida court and its jury is expected to come from a conservative-leaning region of the state that supported Trump in the election. 2020. Those built-in demographics can be a challenge for prosecutors despite the evidence at their disposal, underscoring the impossibility of separating law from politics in an election-year trial involving a former president seeking a comeback. to the White House.

“The more conservative the counties, the better chance you have of finding sympathetic juries,” said Richard Kibbey, a criminal defense attorney in Stuart, Florida, part of the Fort Pierce district where the jury is expected to be seated. taken from.

When it comes to finding truly impartial jurors, he added: “It’s going to be very difficult given the political climate across the country. “Jurors will bring their own biases to the courtroom.”

Unless the location of the trial is changed or its date is delayed, it will be held from next May in Fort Pierce before US District Judge Aileen Cannon, appointed by Trump and who came under scrutiny last year by accept a request from Trump’s team to appoint an independent arbitrator to review classified documents seized at Mar-a-Lago. That decision was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals panel.

For months, a grand jury in Washington had been hearing testimony about the case, raising expectations that any charges against Trump would be brought there. Instead, the indictment ended up being filed in the Southern District of Florida, allowing the Special Counsel Jack Smith’s Team avoided protracted fights with Trump’s lawyers over the appropriate venue for the case, but it created the possibility that the jury would be less desirable, at least politically. .

The jury selection process is intended to eliminate personal or partisan biases that could taint the case, and jurors are instructed to make decisions solely on the basis of the evidence they hear. But in a federal court system where convictions overwhelmingly outnumber acquittals, defense attorneys (and prosecutors, for that matter) could nonetheless turn to jury selection as a way to gain an advantage.

“Choosing a jury is an art. It’s not a science. And whether you’re a prosecutor or a defense attorney, you use everything you have in your arsenal to assemble the best jury you can get for your case,” said Michael Sherwin, a former federal prosecutor in Miami who served during the Trump administration as acting federal prosecutor. Lawyer in Washington.

“You want to make sure you have the best people on the jury who will be receptive to your message. So from that perspective, if I’m the Department of Justice, I’d rather have a jury pool from Miami than one from Fort Pierce,” she added.

Given its large geographic size, the district has five courthouses: in Key West, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce. The indictment itself was filed in West Palm, the city with the closest courthouse to Mar-a-Lago.

He was then randomly assigned to Cannon, who despite being in Fort Pierce also hears cases in West Palm, the clerk’s office said in an email to The Associated Press.

But such a successful trial, with a media avalanche, could test the resources of a court and a region much less accustomed to headline-making events than, say, Miami.

“The biggest question will be: Can the Fort Pierce court handle this case? And if he can’t, where are they going to send him?” said David Weinstein, a Florida attorney and former federal prosecutor. “And if they send it to Miami, how are they going to get the jurors there because technically it’s not a Miami case?”

Jurors in the Fort Pierce trials come from five counties, according to the written jury plan for the Southern District of Florida: St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River, Okeechobee and Highlands.

Trump won each of those counties. His margin of victory was particularly wide in Okeechobee, where he won with 71.8% of the vote. In St. Lucie, home of Fort Pierce, he won only 50.4%, but Republicans have continued to gain ground there, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was re-elected last year with more than 59% of the vote. votes there.

That dynamic is distinguished from the more Democratic cities (New York, Washington and Atlanta) where Trump also faces charges. Trump’s lawyers tried unsuccessfully to force the judge’s recusal in the New York case and they have resorted to the same tactic in Washington , saying that Judge Tanya Chutkan has made public comments that call into question her ability to be fair. The request is pending.

Lawyers in the Washington case have attacked the indictment as novel and fraught with complicated constitutional issues, suggesting they will invoke arguments related to the First Amendment and presidential immunity. Florida’s defense team, which was reorganized after the indictment, has not yet publicly detailed its defenses.

But despite the importance of jury selection and the fact that both sides will use jury selection to choose the best possible panel for their respective cases, the outcome may still depend on which team has the best evidence and arguments.

“He’s a high-profile defendant, but I suspect that when the going gets tough, most people don’t make all their important decisions based on politics,” said Richard Serafini, a Florida defense attorney and former Justice Department official. .

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