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Trump's conviction in New York extends losing streak with jurors to 0-42 in recent cases

Views of justice system after Trump verdict
How Americans view justice system after Trump conviction 04:02

When 12 Manhattan jurors returned after a day and a half of deliberations on May 30 and convicted Donald Trump of 34 felonies, they added to an astonishing losing streak for the former president.

Trump and his company have been unable to win over a single juror, out of 42 total, in recent criminal and civil trials. 

"It's a very remarkable thing. In all these jurors, he didn't succeed in getting one, not one person," said criminal defense attorney Robert McWhirter.

The juries — two in state criminal trials and two in federal civil trials — have unanimously and quickly ruled against Trump. Winning over just one juror is often the baseline hope for defense attorneys, because a jury that can't reach consensus — known as a hung jury — results in a mistrial. One juror can save a defendant from defeat, at least in the short term.

The Trump juries

Former President Donald Trump speaks at Trump Tower on May 31, 2024 in New York City.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at Trump Tower on May 31, 2024 in New York City. DAVID DEE DELGADO / Getty Images

In December 2022, 12 jurors found two Trump Organization companies guilty of 17 felonies related to tax evasion. A prosecutor in that trial referred to Trump, who was not charged in the case, as the "elephant not in the room," and it landed Trump's former chief financial officer behind bars. Jurors learned that executives at Trump's company had received ill-gotten perks, and "grossed up" the benefits to avoid tax hits.

Five months later, nine jurors took just a few hours to find Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming the writer E. Jean Carroll. The jurors awarded Carroll $5 million.

Trump blamed his lawyers, saying they advised him to stay away from court. He said he believed his presence and testimony would've led to a better outcome.

He first tested that theory in January, attending a second trial stemming from different allegations that he defamed Carroll. He even briefly testified. The nine-person jury in that case awarded Carroll another $83.3 million

While in criminal cases juries have to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the two Carroll trials were civil cases. Trump was found liable for sexually abusing and defaming Carroll by a preponderance of the evidence, a lower standard. 

Trump decided not to testify at his New York criminal trial, although had no choice but to attend every minute of it.

"These are your peers"

Trump and his attorneys have long argued they can't get a fair shake in Manhattan, where President Biden won about 85% of the vote in 2020. Before the trial, they sought a change of venue to other nearby counties. His two civil trials over the Carrolls allegations included jurors from many of those counties, which are more politically diverse and often vote to send Republicans to Congress.

"I'm sure there are people on those juries who voted for him, just by a statistical probability. There had to have been a certain percentage who actually voted for Donald Trump, and yet he could not succeed in getting one of them to go his way," said McWhirter.

Trump might argue that the politics of New York tilted the odds against him, but defendants "can't pick and choose" where their case will be tried, said Matthew Mangino, the former district attorney in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.

"You commit a crime in Manhattan, these are your peers. And they're going to be selected out of that population of people," said Mangino. "The crime's in Manhattan, the jury's in Manhattan and you're going to be tried in Manhattan."

While arguments about which jurisdiction might favor one political candidate or another in his criminal case are common pundit fare, research into juror behavior suggests that civilians take the job very seriously once they become jurors.

Valerie Hans, a professor at Cornell Law School and one of the nation's leading scholars on the jury system, said jurors typically follow the evidence and tend to reach consensus based on what they're presented.

"Most of the research says when you have substantial evidence favoring guilt, or supporting acquittal, the verdict follows the evidence," Hans said.

The evidence against Trump and his company in his most recent case was voluminous: handwritten notes relating to a scheme to cover up reimbursements for a "hush money" payment to an adult film star. A recording of Trump talking about a related payment in the scheme, that one made to a model. Corroborative testimony from multiple people indicating Trump understood the details of the scheme and signed off on it, with the goal of keeping information from voters.

Still, the fact that Trump is one of the most famous and powerful people on Earth meant the court had to take concerns about preconceived biases very seriously, Hans said.

Hans said jury selection was "super careful." Justice Juan Merchan excused people as soon as they indicated they couldn't be impartial.

"Huge numbers of people said they couldn't be fair to Trump, and they were booted off without more discussion," Hans said, adding that Merchan then allowed lawyers "more latitude than is typical" when questioning those who remained.

Across the country, prosecutors win the vast majority of their trials. That's one of the reasons most cases end in pretrial agreements in which defendants enter guilty pleas. In civil cases, the odds aren't nearly as bad for a defendant.

A 2019 survey of research into federal lawsuit outcomes published in the University of California Davis Law Review showed that just 30% of plaintiffs won their civil court cases in 2017. The study showed that plaintiffs' victories had generally declined over time since 1985, when they won 70% of their cases. It noted that some of that decline had to do with an increase in lawsuits against the government — generally, a tough battle to win — but that they could find "no complete explanation for the win rate decline given the available data."

Judgments in federal civil trials still need to be unanimous. Across the four trials, Trump's lawyers called just six total witnesses. They opted instead, in all of the cases, to focus on cross-examining prosecutors' and plaintiffs' witnesses, in an effort to cast doubt on the cases against Trump.

It didn't work.

"As many defense lawyers have probably found out, it's risky to rely on a 'I'll just get one juror and they can hang the jury' strategy," Hans said. "It is quite difficult to manage that, especially if you have absolutely no support."

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