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What it’s like inside the courtroom at Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial

Former President Donald Trump’s trial on 34 felony counts is being held in a large courtroom that has the air of a grand structure gone to seed: The floors are grimy, the wooden benches unforgiving and the temperature swings from frigid to sweltering.
Last Updated : 14 May 2024, 14:43 IST
Last Updated : 14 May 2024, 14:43 IST

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New York: A dimly lit room on the 15th floor of an Art Deco courthouse in lower Manhattan is the stage for the most closely watched legal drama in decades: the first criminal trial of an American president.

Former President Donald Trump’s trial on 34 felony counts is being held in a large courtroom that has the air of a grand structure gone to seed: The floors are grimy, the wooden benches unforgiving and the temperature swings from frigid to sweltering.

Members of the public and reporters get 14 rows, five on each side, inside the wood-paneled courtroom, behind the prosecution and defense tables. Those seats provide a view of the judge — the bench sits directly under burnished letters spelling out “In God We Trust” — and the witness stand. The jurors sit on the right side and are usually focused on the witness stand or the lawyer speaking at the lectern.

Four large closed-circuit television screens also make it possible to see the faces of those at the prosecution and defense tables, including Trump. The former president usually sits in the second chair, with the defense lawyer who is handling arguments or questioning a witness occupying the first. When lawyers approach the bench for a sidebar, Trump is sometimes left alone at the table. Other times, a lawyer who is not taking part moves to sit beside him briefly.

Despite its size, the courtroom is nonetheless too small to contain all those wanting to catch a glimpse of the trial. Additional members of the news media and the public can follow along in the overflow room, where the same video feed is shown.

The feed is not shared beyond the overflow courtroom; New York state generally does not permit trials to be broadcast. The only glimpses of the courtroom available to the broader public come from courtroom sketch artists and images from photographers who are permitted inside for 45 seconds, just before court goes into session.

The New York Times usually has two reporters inside the main courtroom and several others in the overflow area to provide a steady stream of updates on arguments, testimony, evidence and Trump’s disposition — sometimes with the help of binoculars to get a better look at the screens.

The prosecution and defense get two rows each. On the prosecution side, those benches have seated members of the Manhattan district attorney’s office, including the district attorney himself, Alvin Bragg. On the defense side, Secret Service agents take up some of the seats, along with supporters of the former president. Trump’s son Eric, who has been seen in the courtroom repeatedly, is the only member of the Trump family who has attended so far.

The temperature inside is often a step behind New York’s shifting spring weather: Frequently too hot or too cold, it seems to lag the outside temperature by a day or two.

The chill that pervaded during jury selection at one point prompted the judge in the case, Juan Merchan, to apologize to prospective jurors. When Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, inquired about raising the temperature, Merchan said the only alternative to shivering was sweating — and he’d rather be cold.

Trump has also groused about the cold, remarking during his arrival one morning that he thought the temperature was being kept low “on purpose.” And departing the courtroom for a break at another point, he remarked to reporters in the last row: “Is it cold enough?”

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Published 14 May 2024, 14:43 IST

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