Arraignment of Former President Donald Trump

April 4, 2023
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Crux Of The Case

For the first time in American history, a former United States president faces criminal charges.
Here's the basics to know as we navigate this news cycle.


  • Definition: A formal document accusing an individual (the defendant) of a crime.

  • Context: In New York, to reach an indictment related to a felony charge(s), evidence is first presented to a grand jury consisting of 23 people who decide if there is enough evidence to file an indictment after the prosecutor presents their case (e.g., testimony from witnesses, etc.) A majority must vote to indict.

  • March 30, 2023: A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict former President Trump.


  • Definition: The first step in a criminal prosecution. The defendant is brought before a judge to be formally charged with a crime. Alongside their attorney(s), they may enter a plea: typically guilty or not guilty. When a defendant pleads guilty, a punishment is set by a judge. If a defendant pleads not guilty, a trial will follow where the prosecution must prove its case.

  • April 4, 2023: During his arraignment, former Pres. Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.


  • A charge "is a formal accusation of criminal activity … Formal charges are announced at an arrested person's arraignment" (Cornell Law School).

  • The two main types of criminal charges are felonies and misdemeanors, with misdemeanors being the less serious of the two. They are both divided into different levels (e.g. classes or degrees) based on the severity of the crime. Misdemeanors are usually punishable by imprisonment for less than one year. Felony punishments range from one year to life in prison.

"The defendant, Donald J. Trump, falsified New York business records in order to conceal an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 presidential election and other violations of election laws."

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy. In New York, falsifying business records "on its own is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than one year in prison," however, "it is elevated to a felony punishable by up to four years when done to advance or conceal another crime, such as election law violations" (Reuters).

Crux Of The Case

  • The charges against fmr. Pres. Trump center on allegations he falsified business records in an effort to commit and conceal another (*unspecified & uncharged*) crime.

  • Specifically, he is accused of engaging in a scheme with others to influence the 2016 election by using unlawful efforts to conceal damaging information related to an election (a crime under federal & NY law), including three hush-money payments (falsely recorded in company records) to cover up alleged extramarital sexual encounters.

Big Picture: These charges come on the backdrop of former President Trump's third run for the presidency, as well as three other ongoing criminal investigations surrounding the 2020 election, Jan. 6th, and his handling of classified documents. After his arraignment on Tuesday, President Trump said, "The only crime that I've committed has been to fearlessly defend our nation against those who seek to destroy it."

The next court date has been scheduled for December 4; it is unclear whether former President Trump will be required to attend.

Read the indictment against Donald Trump, details of payments to porn star, Playboy model (CNBC)

Trump's day in court as criminal defendant: What to know (The Associated Press)

  • Click HERE to read the indictment of former President Donald Trump, detailing 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. (An indictment is a list of the criminal charges against the defendant – in this case, Pres. Trump.)
  • Click HERE to read the accompanying Statement of Facts. (The Statement of Facts is a document with "facts" related to the case which is put together by the prosecutor; the defendant can challenge these facts.)

Explainer: Trump hush money case: What is an indictment? An arraignment? A gag order? (Reuters)

Cornell Law School: Indictment; Arraignment; Charge

New York Police Department: Criminal Justice Process

Glossary from the NYPD

Type of Criminal Cases (NYCOURTS.GOV)

by Jenna Lee,