Judge Cannon Seeks Hypothetical Jury Instructions in Trump Documents Case

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By journalsofus.com

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s classified documents case issued an unusual order Monday night regarding jury instructions at the end of the trial, although she has not yet ruled on when the trial will take place or on a series of Another questions.

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon ordered attorneys to submit proposed jury instructions by April 2 on two issues related to the defense motions. that the accusation be dismissed outright.

Cannon, a relatively inexperienced judge who was nominated by Trump and has been on the court since late 2020, heard arguments on the two defense motions last week.

At that hearing, she He seemed skeptical that Trump’s attack on the Espionage Act, or his adoption of the Presidential Records Act, were strong enough to save the former president and likely Republican candidate for the White House in 2024. of a criminal process. At the same time, he suggested that aspects of Trump’s policy The arguments could be valid enough to come into play during jury instructions.

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Jurors are instructed on how to weigh the evidence just before they begin deliberating, so Cannon’s approach to this issue suggests that he is not only thinking about the former president’s trial, but is already focusing on the end, on place of the beginning, of the judgment. such procedure.

However, his two-page order also suggests an openness to some of the defense claims that the Presidential Records Act allows Trump or other presidents declare highly classified documents as personal property. National security law experts say that’s not what the law says, nor how courts have interpreted it for decades, particularly given the other laws governing national security secrets.

Cannon asked prosecutors and defense attorneys to consider two different hypothetical situations, writing, “the parties should address the following competing scenarios and offer alternative draft language that assumes each scenario is a correct formulation of the law.”

In the first scenario, Cannon said, the jury would be You are allowed to review a former president’s possession of a record and make an objective conclusion about whether “it is personal or presidential using the definitions set forth in the Presidential Records Act,” also known as the PRA.

Confusingly, he added in a footnote that any “separation of powers or immunity concerns will be included in this discussion if relevant.” Immunity is an issue for judges, not juries, to decide, so it was not immediately clear what that language in Cannon’s order meant.

The second scenario Cannon describes is one in which a president “has exclusive authority under the PRA to classify records as personal or presidential during his presidency. Neither a court nor a jury can make or review such a categorization decision.”

That second scenario would seem to be one in which Trump apparently could not be convicted under almost any set of facts for improper possession of classified documents. It was not immediately clear how Cannon envisions a trial potentially based on that premise.

After last week’s hearing, Cannon issued a brief order saying that while some of Trump’s arguments about the Espionage Act deserve “serious consideration,” he thought it was too early to dismiss the charges based on disagreements. on the definition of some terms in the World War. Law of era I.

At the same time, he suggested that Trump could raise the issue later “in connection with jury briefing and/or other appropriate motions,” an invitation that appears to have led to Monday’s order. Trump had argued in his motion that the Espionage Act, which has been used for decades to convict others of improper possession of classified documents, was too vaguely worded to be used in his impeachment.

Cannon seemed especially dubious at the hearing about Trump’s defense’s other claim: that the Presidential Records Act means he could simply declare highly classified documents as his personal property. and keep them at Mar-a-Lago, his home and private club in Florida.

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 was passed after President Richard M. Nixon attempted to destroy White House tapes during the Watergate scandal. He says presidential records belong to the public and must be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration at the end of the presidency.

Trump case in Florida is the first of its kind: a former president accused of dozens of charges of violating national security laws by allegedly hiding classified documents in his home after leaving the White House and then obstructing government efforts to recover them.

It is one of four criminal trials Trump faces, and his lawyers have fought to try to delay all of them until after the election. Cannon originally scheduled the trial in Florida to begin the week of May 20, but made clear that more time is needed to resolve pretrial issues involving the use of classified documents as evidence. She held a hearing to discuss a new trial date on March 1, but has not yet commented.

Trump and his co-defendants in Florida have also filed a series of other motions seeking to dismiss the case, including a claim by Trump that he is the target of a vindictive and politically motivated prosecution.

While those motions were not the subject of Cannon’s hearing Thursday, Trump’s lawyers referred several times during their arguments to other public officials who were not charged after classified documents were found in their homes, including the recent decision by special prosecutor Robert K. Hur not charge president biden.

Those cases, the lawyers argued, show that the charges against their client were unjustified and politically motivated.

During the hearing, Cannon questioned several times how prosecutors distinguish Trump’s conduct from that of other former officials. She could schedule additional motion hearings at any time.

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