How Trump's denial strategy could hurt him at sentencing


WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has had quite a bit to say since his conviction within the hush money trial last week.

He claimed the case was manipulatedfalsely linked president Joe Biden to the prosecution, called the important thing witness against him a “slimebag” and said that the judge was a “devil” and “with strong conflicts”.

What he has not done, nevertheless, is utter any variation of the words that might serve him most on the sentencing next month: “I'm sorry.”

It is a truism of the criminal justice system that defendants hoping for lenient treatment at sentencing are expected to simply accept responsibility for his or her actions and even show remorse. But that runs counter to Trump's longstanding refusal to confess wrongdoing, a tone he often uses to display strength and portray himself as a fighter under incessant attacks. While that strategy may resonate along with his most loyal political supporters, it went improper during his New York criminal trial and will complicate his legal team's efforts to avoid a harsh sentence.

“The fact that he shows no remorse — in fact, he continues to deny his guilt — I think will hurt him at sentencing,” said Jeffrey Cohen, an associate professor at Boston College Law School and a former federal prosecutor in Massachusetts. “That's one of the things that the judge can really point to and that everyone knows — that he's just in denial — and he can use that as a strong basis for his verdict.”

Trump is ought to be sentenced on July 11 by Judge Juan M. Merchan, who threatened a jail sentence throughout the trial after the previous president racked up 1000’s of dollars in fines for violating a news blackout. He was the goal of Trump's relentless wrath.

The 34 charges Trump was found guilty of falsifying business records, charges which can be punishable by as much as 4 years in prison. It isn’t clear whether prosecutors are looking for prison time – Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg dodged a matter on Thursday – or whether Merchan would sentence him to prison even when it were really helpful.

As a part of a broader, rambling broadside against the case, Trump sought to downplay any concerns about his sentence, saying in an interview with “Fox & Friends Weekend” that aired Sunday that he was “okay” with the prospect of prison or house arrest.

“I saw one of my lawyers on TV the other day say to a former president, 'Oh no, you don't want to do that.' I said, 'Don't beg for anything. That's just the way it is.'”

He has the choice to handle the judge at sentencing, but isn’t required to achieve this, and a few legal experts have said it could be inadvisable for him to talk. He didn’t testify in his defense on the trial, which he later said was because he feared prosecutors might attempt to catch him in a trivial lie.

“If he turns around and blames the court, attacks the prosecutors, calls this whole thing a witch hunt and lies, then you should have no concerns: There will be consequences, and there should be consequences,” said Jeremy Saland, a former deputy district attorney in Manhattan.

Added to this are Trump’s constant attacks on prosecutors, judges and the judiciary, in addition to his aggressive litigation strategy – categorically denies allegations of an extramarital affair by porn star Stormy Daniels and his involvement in the following plot to purchase her silence – make any change of heart on the time of his sentencing seem dishonest.

“I don't see any real benefit in him speaking at the sentencing because even if he had said something, he would have said the exact opposite outside the courtroom and the judge would have noticed that,” Cohen said.

There are, after all, many other aspects that might militate against a jail sentence – notwithstanding Trump's apparent lack of remorse. For example, Merchan could conclude that there’s a strong societal interest in keeping a former and possibly future president out of prison.

“Sometimes as a judge and a prosecutor you have to look at the proverbial scoreboard and say, 'That's enough.' And this scoreboard here is a permanent brand that you would see on the side of cattle: a big fat 'F' for a serious crime,” Saland said.

“It's far worse than a scarlet letter could ever be,” he added. “And no matter what he says, no matter how he twists and turns it, no matter whether he gets a day in jail for it or not, he will always be a convicted felon. Period.”

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