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It's Not Clear if Winning in 2024 Could Shield Trump from a Conviction

On Tuesday, Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, appeared at a Manhattan courthouse to be arraigned in an extraordinary and unprecedented moment in American democracy.

Trump has continually tested the bounds of the nation’s legal, judicial, and political systems. While he became the first sitting or former President to be indicted, Tuesday’s proceedings set up more unresolved questions to come, including: What happens if Trump wins re-election and is convicted of a felony while in the White House?

There’s no clear answer, say constitutional law experts. This is uncharted territory. No one knows what would happen to this case or the others against him if Trump gets elected in 2024 or what would happen to the criminal charges or trial dates.

“If you have a newly elected President, with indictments and criminal prosecutions still pending or having started, unfortunately, I think you’re guaranteed a constitutional crisis of the highest magnitude, even bigger than Watergate,” says Ken Gormley, President and professor of law at Duquesne University and editor of American Presidents and the Constitution: A Living History. A Supreme Court battle would be likely, Gormley predicts.

Trump was charged by the Manhattan district attorney’s office with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to an alleged hush-money scheme before the 2016 election. He pleaded not guilty.

There are a few relevant points to consider about whether Trump could be convicted of a felony as President. First, there is nothing in the Constitution that says an indicted person can’t run for President, so Trump’s 2024 campaign can proceed. Second, it’s long been debated whether a sitting President can be charged with a crime—while there’s no definitive answer, it’s been the opinion of the Justice Department since the Watergate era that it can’t be done. But that isn’t legally binding. And third, Trump’s current situation raises even more questions, because this is a state case, not a federal one.

“If it was a federal case, in a new Trump Administration, the new Attorney General could easily instruct the Justice Department to just simply not show up and don’t prosecute it further,” says Gormley. “But if it was a state prosecution, in New York or Georgia or elsewhere, that would be far less likely to end. The Justice Department simply has no power to command a state court to cease a prosecution.”

Read entire article at TIME