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Trump Provides Courtroom Decorum Stress Test

Former President Donald Trump regularly flouts standard legal advice to criminal defendants about keeping quiet, with unrestrained public statements that put him on a collision course with the system's rules and may tee up appellate tests of where the lines can be drawn, the Wall Street Journal reports. Since he was first indicted in New York state court in April, the former president has denied wrongdoing and sought to portray the charges in all four of the criminal cases against him as politically motivated. Through his prolific posts on his social-media website Truth Social, he has attacked judges, prosecutors and witnesses in the trials — and even criticized entire cities whose residents make up the jury pool of citizens who will likely be asked to decide his fate. After U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan set a March 4 trial date for his Washington case on Monday, Trump deemed her “a biased, Trump Hating Judge.” Washington, Trump said in another Truth Social post, is a “FILTHY AND CRIME RIDDEN EMBARRASSMENT” where he couldn’t get a fair trial, while in Atlanta there are “thousands of murderers, violent criminals & gang members roaming the streets.”


Such comments have placed judges presiding over the four closely watched criminal cases against Trump in uncharted legal territory. There are few clear precedents to guide judges on how to ensure a fair and orderly trial while protecting Trump’s free-speech rights as he seeks to reclaim his old office and defend his public reputation. Courts have generally been most concerned about statements perceived as directed against witnesses. “You want to criticize me as a prosecutor, have at it. You want to criticize the judge, have at it. But when it comes to witnesses, it’s a different matter,” said Chuck Rosenberg, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice at Crowell & Moring. “They are protected by federal law because their honest testimony goes to the integrity of the criminal-justice process.” But the legality of pretrial restrictions and how they intersect with the First Amendment rights of defendants remains an underdeveloped area of the law because so few defendants have either the incentive or the financial resources to aggressively assert their free-speech rights while defending themselves against the underlying charges. The judges presiding over the four Trump cases have been cautious, aware that whatever rulings they make are likely to be challenged. “They’re going to tread carefully here,” said Brian Klein, a former federal prosecutor and a partner at Waymaker LLP. “Anything that one of these judges does is going to be quickly appealed if it’s adverse to Trump.”

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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