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Trump’s hush money case has gone to the jury. What happens now?

NEW YORK (AP) — After nearly two dozen witnesses, 16 days of testimony and hours of lawyers’ closing arguments, it’s time for jurors to have their say in Donald Trump’s hush money trial.

Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president. The seven-man, five-woman panel is tasked with deciding whether Trump is guilty of any of 34 felony counts of falsifying his company’s records.

Prosecutors say Trump falsified the records to veil reimbursements to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen, who had paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign not to air her claim that she and Trump had sex a decade earlier.

The former president and presumptive Republican nominee has pleaded not guilty, denies any sexual interaction with Daniels and argues that the payments to Cohen were correctly designated as legal expenses in company records.

Now that the case has gone to the jury, here’s a look at how deliberations will work.

WHAT IS THE JURY DECIDING?

To convict Trump, the jury must unanimously find he created a fraudulent entry in his company’s records, or caused someone else to do so, and that he did so with the intent of violating, or concealing a violation of a state law making it illegal for conspirators “to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means.”

While the jury must agree that something unlawful was done to promote Trump’s election, they don’t have to be unanimous on what that unlawful thing was. In this case, jurors could choose between three possible unlawful acts:

— They could find that one of the conspirators broke the Federal Election Campaign Act, which in 2016 made it illegal for a person to give something worth more than $2,700 to a presidential campaign. It also banned corporations from contributing to a campaign.

— They could find that other business records were falsified, including federal tax forms the Trump Organization issued to Cohen, bank records associated with Cohen’s formation of two limited liability companies, bank records associated with a wire transfer Cohen made to Daniels’ lawyer, or an invoice used when the National Enquirer’s parent company paid Karen McDougal, a former model who claimed to have had an affair with Trump.

— They could find that false information was submitted on a tax return.

For a conviction, each juror would have to find that at least one of those unlawful things happened.

WHERE DO DELIBERATIONS HAPPEN?

Behind closed doors in a room reserved for the jury.

While the 12 deliberate, the six alternate jurors who have also observed the whole trial will be in a separate space in the courthouse. If a jury member is unable to continue because of illness or other reasons, an alternate juror will then take that person’s place, and deliberations will begin anew.

Jurors went into deliberations after getting detailed instructions on the relevant laws in the case, what must be proven in order for them to convict, and their duty to acquit if it’s not proven. They had to hand over their cellphones to court officers to hold.

WHAT WILL WE KNOW ABOUT THE DISCUSSIONS?

Very little. The deliberations are secret, though jurors — whose identities are being kept from the public — can have a court officer deliver notes from them to the judge. For example, they might ask for legal guidance, inquire about scheduling or ask for some testimony to be read to them from the court transcript. (They don’t have the transcript in the jury room but do have a court laptop loaded with documents and other exhibits that were shown during the trial.)

If the jury sends such a note, the judge generally reads it in court and then discusses with prosecutors and defense lawyers how to respond, such as exactly which testimony is relevant to the request. Then jurors are brought into court to hear the answer.

Court-watchers sometimes speculate about what the contents of a note might imply about the deliberations, but there’s no way to know for sure.

Jurors also send a note to signal when they have reached a verdict — or, sometimes, to say they’re bogged down.

WHERE WILL TRUMP BE IN THE MEANTIME?

He doesn’t have to stay in the courtroom itself but must be in the building. During the trial, he and his attorneys and security personnel have had the use of a courtroom across the hall for breaks.

HOW LONG WILL JURORS DELIBERATE?

As long as they need to. The standard court day runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a break for lunch (jurors’ meals will be delivered). But judges sometimes extend the hours if jurors wish. In this case, Judge Juan M. Merchan already has decided that deliberations will proceed on Wednesday, which is normally a day off from the trial. There’s no limit on how many days deliberations can continue.

DO THE JURORS GET TO GO HOME?

Yes, at the end of each court day. The jury isn’t sequestered, the legal term for isolating the panel from the outside world. That was once mandatory for many felony cases in New York state, but the requirement was lifted in 2001, and sequestration is now rare.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE’S A VERDICT?

Jurors will send a note, via a court officer, saying there is a verdict, but not what it is. The judge will summon Trump, his defense team and prosecutors back to the courtroom if they’re not there already, and then announce that the jury has reached a verdict.

Then the jury will be brought in, and the foreperson — in New York, that job generally goes to the first juror chosen — will be asked whether the jury has reached a verdict. If the answer is yes, the foreperson will then be asked what the verdict is for each count and will answer either “guilty” or “not guilty.”

Then the jury likely will be asked collectively, “Is this your verdict?” Prosecutors or defense lawyers also can ask to have each juror asked the same question individually.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE ISN’T A VERDICT?

If jurors send a note saying they can’t agree, the judge, in consultation with both sides, must decide what to do next. Defense lawyers might seek an immediate mistrial. That could be granted, but often, the response is to call the jury in for some form of instruction to keep trying.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers often debate what should be said. Judges may look to the New York court system’s sample language for what’s known as a “modified Allen charge.” It urges jurors to make every possible effort to reach a verdict, and to be willing to reconsider their positions without abandoning their conscience or judgment just to go along with others.

If deadlock notes continue, the message may be repeated or tweaked. So, too, arguments for a mistrial. There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how long a jury must keep attempting to resolve differences before a mistrial can be declared.

Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press


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