How Trump's history with New York City complicates jury selection in his hush money trial

New York, New York - Jury selection for Donald Trump's hush money trial is set to begin on April 15, with hundreds of residents of Manhattan receiving summons to appear in court.

Jury selection in Donald Trump's New York hush money trial will begin on April 15.
Jury selection in Donald Trump's New York hush money trial will begin on April 15.  © Credit Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

Trump faces 34 counts of allegedly falsifying business records to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election to cover up a sexual encounter.

Twelve jurors and up to six alternates will be picked among them to hear the blockbuster case, which is expected to last up to six weeks.

The prospective jurors, randomly selected from public records, will fill out a detailed questionnaire and undergo a screening process known as "voir dire."

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Their verdict must be unanimous, and both prosecutors and Trump's defense attorneys will be seeking to ferret out the political leanings of potential jurors to fashion a panel to their liking.

"Manhattan has a long history with Donald Trump," said Leslie Ellis, a veteran jury consultant and founder of The Caissa Group.

"Not only just from his presidency and post his presidency but his time in real estate and business in New York before that."

Trump's long history with New York City has led to his lawyers complaining about potential bias from jury memebers.
Trump's long history with New York City has led to his lawyers complaining about potential bias from jury memebers.  © MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

The 77-year-old Republican presidential candidate has repeatedly denounced the case as a "political witch hunt" brought by Democrats to derail his chances of recapturing the White House in November.

Trump's lawyers have tried – and failed – to delay the trial on the grounds that the New York jury pool has been exposed to "huge amounts of biased and unfair media coverage."

"Many of the potential jurors already wrongfully believe that President Trump is guilty," they complained in a filing with Judge Juan Merchan, who will preside over the case.

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District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the charges against Trump, brushed aside the claim that he cannot get a fair shake in his hometown.

"Given the sheer size of New York County, it is absurd for defendant to assert that it will be impossible or even impractical to find a dozen fair and impartial jurors, plus alternates, among more than a million people," Bragg said.

But empaneling a jury in this case does present particular challenges.

"On average in state court in New York you're probably looking at a day or two of jury selection but this is not an average case," Ellis said. "A lot will depend on how the judge conducts jury selection."

Trump's warned not to defy gag order

Trump has been forbidden from attacking witnesses and court staff involved in the trial.
Trump has been forbidden from attacking witnesses and court staff involved in the trial.  © SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Merchan has already ruled that the names of the jury members will be shielded from the public because of the "likelihood of bribery, jury tampering, or of physical injury or harassment."

Merchan has also warned Trump that if he violates a gag order prohibiting him from attacking witnesses, court staff, or their families, he could withhold the names of jurors from his lawyers.

Such a move would handicap Trump's defense by limiting the amount of publicly available information his attorneys could research about a prospective juror.

During voir dire, potential jurors are subjected to questioning by prosecutors and defense attorneys, and dozens of candidates can expect to be nixed before a jury is finally seated.

Jurors deemed unable to deliver a fair and impartial verdict are struck for cause and each side also has a number of peremptory challenges, allowing them to dismiss a juror without explanation.

Ellis said that even in the case of such a high-profile figure as Trump, there will be some prospective jurors who profess not to know much about the case.

"People are often surprised at the number of people who don't really pay that much attention to the news and don't really pay that much attention to politics," Ellis said. "Most of them are probably telling the truth and they really will be blank slates."

Cover photo: Credit Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

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