Judge fines Donald Trump again in criminal trial, warns of jail time

Last week Merchan fined Trump $9,000 for nine social media posts that he ruled had violated the gag order.
Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 14:26 IST
Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 14:26 IST

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New York: The judge overseeing Donald Trump's criminal trial said on Monday he would hold the former president in contempt of court for a 10th time for violating a gag order, and warned he would consider jailing him for any further violations.

Justice Juan Merchan said the nine $1,000 fines he had imposed so far did not seem to be deterring Trump from violating the gag order, which prohibits him from making public comments about jurors, witnesses and families of the judge and prosecutors if the statements mean to interfere with the case.

Merchan said he considered jail time “truly the last resort” for many reasons, including the disruption to the trial, political implications of jailing a leading presidential candidate ahead of an election and the extraordinary security challenges of incarcerating an ex-president with a lifetime Secret Service detail.

But he said Trump’s “continued, willful” violations of the gag order amounted to a “direct attack on the rule of law.”

“I do not want to impose a jail sanction and have done everything I can to avoid doing so. But I will if necessary,” Merchan said from the bench in the absence of the jury.

New York law allows fines of up to $1,000 or jail time of up to 30 days for violating a court-imposed gag order.

Merchan imposed a $1,000 fine on Monday for an April 22 broadcast interview in which the Republican former president said: "That jury was picked so fast - 95% Democrats. The area's mostly all Democrat."

He found that other statements flagged by prosecutors that mentioned witnesses Michael Cohen and David Pecker did not violate the order.

Last week Merchan fined Trump $9,000 for nine social media posts that he ruled had violated the gag order.

Merchan spoke while Trump sat at the defendant's table in the New York courtroom in the first criminal trial of a former US president.

Trump's criminal hush money trial, now in its 12th day, has featured testimony from a top aide and a former tabloid publisher about efforts during his first presidential bid to tamp down stories of unflattering sexual behavior.

New York prosecutors have charged Trump with falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual encounter with him in 2006. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies ever having sex with Daniels.

Trump complains frequently that the gag order limits his ability to make his case to voters for a comeback White House bid.

Before Monday's session, Trump declined to comment about Cohen, his former lawyer who is expected to be a prominent witness in the trial.

However, he repeated unsupported claims that New York prosecutors are working with President Joe Biden, a Democrat, to hobble his political prospects and said Merchan faces a conflict of interest because his daughter has done work for Democratic politicians. Trump's lawyers have unsuccessfully tried to remove Merchan from the case.

"The judge has gagged me and I'm not allowed to talk about, I guess, his total conflict," Trump told reporters outside the courtroom. "He's taken away my constitutional right to speak." 

Published 06 May 2024, 14:26 IST

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