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What's next after Trump's conviction in his "hush money" trial? How he might appeal the verdict

Sentencing guidelines in Trump's case
What could Trump's sentence be after conviction in "hush money" trial? 05:19

Washington — Former President Donald Trump's historic conviction on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records brought to an end the trial stage of the case stemming from a "hush money" payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016. But it marks the beginning of a potentially lengthy appeals process that could take years to unfold.

A jury of 12 New Yorkers found Trump guilty on all counts, handing down a landmark verdict Wednesday that marks the first time a former U.S. president has been convicted of a crime. The jury deliberated for less than 10 hours after the six-week trial that included testimony from 22 witnesses and saw Trump held in contempt of court for violating a gag order 10 times. 

Justice Juan Merchan is set to sentence the former president on July 11, four days before the start of the Republican National Convention where Trump is set to receive the party's nomination for president. Trump could face up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each of the 34 counts, but Merchan has wide discretion in imposing a sentence. 

The former president and Todd Blanche, his lead defense attorney, have vowed to challenge the conviction. Under state law, they have 30 days from the date of sentencing to file a written notice of appeal with the New York Supreme Court, and six months to file their full appeal.

The appeals process

"We think an appeal has a lot of merit. We think we're going to win on appeal," Blanche told CBS News chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa on Friday.

The case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was filed in the New York Supreme Court, the trial court. The conviction will be appealed to the Appellate Division, First Judicial Department. After the Appellate Division rules, the losing party can then ask the Court of Appeals, New York's highest-level court, to review the adverse ruling from the lower court.

In order for the case to land before the U.S. Supreme Court, Trump and his lawyers would have to raise a federal question during the appeals process. 

"At the end of the day, a defense lawyer or defense team, after receiving a pretty devastating verdict, guilty on every single count, you will take every possible approach to try to win an appeal," said Jason Berland, who worked as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for eight years. "If you take the kitchen-sink approach, the court has more hooks to hang its hat on."

Possible grounds for appeal

Former President Donald Trump and Todd Blanche speak to members of the media at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump and Todd Blanche speak to members of the media at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Blanche previewed some of the "key" issues they plan to raise on appeal in his interview with CBS News, including the statute of limitations for the charges; Manhattan as the venue for trying the case; the structure of the prosecution; and whether Merchan should have recused himself. Merchan donated $35 to Democratic causes during the 2020 election cycle and his daughter worked for a Democratic consulting firm, but he rejected requests by Trump to step aside from the case. 

"This is an unprecedented case, no matter what anybody on either side of the aisle says about it. This has never happened before in the history of our country," Blanche said. "I don't just mean bringing an indictment against the former president. I mean, the nature of these charges, how long ago this conduct happened. You have a misdemeanor that becomes a felony with another crime. The other crime is another state misdemeanor."

Prosecutors had argued that Trump unlawfully falsified business records with the intent to conceal or commit another crime, which elevated the charges to felonies. They said that other crime was a conspiracy to violate state election law, a novel legal theory that hadn't been raised before. Prosecutors then pointed to three possible "unlawful means" by which state election law was broken: tax law violations, falsification of other business records or violations of a federal elections law.

Jurors did not have to unanimously agree on the type of "unlawful means." They did have to find that Trump caused the business records to be altered and that he did so to cover up or commit a separate crime.

"Can you use a state election law for a federal candidate, and can you use a federal election law in a state prosecution?" Jessica Levinson, CBS News legal contributor, said of the "live issues" for appeal.

Blanche told CNN in a separate interview Thursday night that he could also raise the publicity surrounding witnesses and the trial proceedings.

"Our system of justice isn't supposed to be a system where every person that walks in the courtroom knows about the case," Blanche said Thursday.

The jury included one member who said they get their news from Truth Social, the platform owned by Trump, and X, formerly known as Twitter. Another juror said their media consumption includes Fox News.

Blanche also said he could take issue with Daniels' testimony on appeal. She provided graphic details while testifying about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, which he denied. Blanche moved for a mistrial after Daniels testified, arguing she went too far, but Merchan denied the request. The judge acknowledged that "there were some things that are probably better left unsaid," but said he was "surprised" there were not more objections from the defense.

Berland, the former prosecutor, predicted Trump's team will challenge the timing of the trial, which came just months before the presidential election. He also said they could look at whether certain evidence was improperly admitted or excluded, and whether Merchan abused his discretion in certain rulings during the trial.

Caroline Polisi, a criminal defense attorney, told "CBS Mornings" that Trump's legal team could raise issues on both the legal side and how the trial played out.

On the structure of the case, she said there could be due process concerns in terms of a criminal defendant "being put on notice with what exactly he or she is being charged with." While the indictment and statement of facts lists the 34 counts and the business records associated with each, neither specified the "unlawful means" through which state election law was violated.

Any hopes for a quick resolution — or one before the Nov. 5 election — are likely to be dashed, since appeals move slowly through the New York courts. Polisi pointed to the case against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, whose conviction was overturned by New York's highest court last month. That decision came four years after he was convicted of rape in the third degree and criminal sexual act in the first degree.

"It's a long road," she said. "The wheels of justice move slowly."

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