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Is Trump going to prison? What to know about the possible sentence after his conviction

Trump conviction: Implications for 2024 race
Could Trump go to prison? Can he still be president? What to know after verdict 12:39

Washington — Former President Donald Trump was found guilty on all charges in his New York "hush money" trial on Thursday, and the judge overseeing the case will soon venture into uncharted territory to determine whether a former president should be imprisoned for a felony conviction for the first time.

Trump was found guilty of falsifying business records to conceal a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence before the 2016 presidential election. The jury in Manhattan returned its guilty verdict after a trial that stretched six weeks and featured more than 20 witnesses. 

Each of the 34 felony charges carries up to a $5,000 fine and four-year prison sentence. But whether Trump will go to prison is another question — one that's up to the judge at sentencing.

When will Trump be sentenced?

The judge set a July 11 date for sentencing following the jury's verdict on Thursday. 

The timing is in line with similar white-collar felony cases, where sentencing often takes place anywhere from three to eight weeks after conviction, according to Dan Horwitz, a defense lawyer who formerly prosecuted white-collar cases for the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

The sentencing will happen four days before the start of the Republican National Convention.

What to expect from sentencing

The minimum sentence for falsifying business records in the first degree is zero, so Trump could receive probation or conditional discharge, a sentence of no jail or up to four years for each offense. Trump would likely be ordered to serve the prison time concurrently for each count, so up to four years, total. 

"The judge could sentence him to anything between zero and the max," Horwitz said. "So he could sentence him to a period of months in jail, he could sentence him to a period of weeks in jail, he could sentence him to a sentence where he is required, for example, to go to jail every weekend for a period of time and then serve the rest of the sentence on probation."

In an analysis of comparable cases brought by the Manhattan district attorney's office, Norm Eisen, who has written a book about Trump's 2020 election-related federal indictment and served as special counsel in the first impeachment of the former president, found that about 10% resulted in imprisonment. But the circumstances surrounding the case make any across-the-board comparison difficult. 

Trump could also be sentenced to home detention, where he would wear an ankle bracelet and be monitored rather than going to jail. Horwitz suggested that a home detention sentence, which walks a middle ground between no punishment and a stint in state prison, might be the most likely outcome. It would also satisfy Trump's unusual security and political situation. 

A home detention sentence would also make it possible for Trump to continue campaigning — albeit virtually — with the ability to hold news conferences and remain active on social media. Throughout the trial, Justice Juan Merchan stressed the importance of allowing Trump the ability to campaign and exercise his First Amendment rights as he seeks another term in the White House. But it's just part of the equation that the judge must weigh in his decision. 

In an interview on CNN after the verdict, Trump attorney Todd Blanche was asked if he expected prosecutors to seek jail time. "I have no idea," Blanche replied. "Look, there's there's a system in place that that where you rely on precedent, and somebody like President Trump should never, never face a jail sentence based on this conduct."

What will the judge consider in Trump's sentencing?

There are a number of factors that the court can take into consideration for sentencing, including the nature and extent of the conduct, who was hurt, whether there are victims, and acceptance of responsibility, Horwitz said. Trump has repeatedly denied any guilt in the case.

"Courts will credit a defendant who pleads guilty by accepting responsibility for their conduct, as opposed to not accepting responsibility going into trial and getting convicted," Horwitz added, saying that "the sentence after a trial because you didn't accept responsibility is more stringent than it would have otherwise been."

A defendant's conduct during the trial may also play a role, so Trump's repeated violation of Merchan's gag order may be a significant factor in his sentencing. During the trial, Trump was accused over a dozen times of violating a gag order preventing him from making public comments about likely witnesses, jurors, attorneys and court staff involved in the case. 

Trump's sentencing may also be complicated by the lifetime Secret Service protection that he's afforded as a former president. The issue came up during the trial, when the judge held Trump in contempt for violating a gag order. Though Trump faced multiple fines, the judge expressed that jailing Trump was "the last thing I want to do" because it would have disrupted the trial and presented challenges for the Secret Service agents tasked with protecting the former president. 

"Today's outcome has no bearing on the manner in which the United States Secret Service carries out its protective mission," the Secret Service said in a statement provided to CBS News following the verdict. "Our security measures will proceed unchanged."  

Trump's imprisonment would likely need to include a rotation of Secret Service officers, and he would need to be isolated from other inmates. The former president's food and personal items would likely need to be screened for his protection, among other logistical considerations. 

"For all settings around the world, we study locations and develop comprehensive and layered protective models that incorporate state of the art technology, protective intelligence and advanced security tactics to safeguard our protectees," Anthony Guglielmi, the Secret Service's chief of communications, said before the verdict. 

No U.S. prison has ever previously had to deal with the possible imprisonment of a former president. Horwitz said there are mechanisms for inmates in protective custody at state correctional facilities and jails, but how the process would actually work remains to be seen. 

After Trump's conviction on Thursday, the Secret Service said in a new statement that "today's outcome has no bearing on the manner in which the United States Secret Service carries out its protective mission. Our security measures will proceed unchanged." 

Where could Trump be imprisoned?

Should Trump be sentenced to a period of home detention, the former president could carry out the sentence outside of New York, for instance, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where New York state would coordinate with Florida's probation department, which would monitor Trump's confinement, Horwitz said. 

In the event that Trump is sentenced to jail time, the location would depend on the duration of his sentence.

If Trump faces more than one year in jail, New York law requires that his sentence be served in a New York penal facility. But if his sentence is shorter than a year, it would be served in a New York City correctional facility, such as Rikers Island. 

What comes next? 

Trump could seek to stay the execution of any sentence pending appeal, meaning that he wouldn't have to start serving the sentence until an appeals court makes a decision, which is not uncommon in white collar cases in New York federal courts, Horwitz said. The move could delay any jail time until the election — or even beyond.

In any case, though possible imprisonment raises some hurdles for Trump's presidential campaign, his conviction does not restrict him from continuing to run — even if he's behind bars.

Olivia Rinaldi and Jake Rosen contributed reporting.

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