Donald Trump trial: How the jurors and the substitute jury work

The jury in the trial against Donald Trump is not completely isolated, but is still expected to reach a verdict “impartially.” It has as much time as it needs to do so. The defendant and the alternate jurors are condemned to do nothing in the meantime.

Jury trials are a complicated business. Jury members are supposed to remain anonymous, but must reveal so many personal details that it is easy to identify them. They should be laypeople, but must judge complex legal issues. They are not allowed to talk about the case during hearings and must be unbiased toward the defendant – even if that defendant is a former president and his name is Donald Trump.

How unbiased are the jurors really?

It took New York judge Juan Merchan three days to select twelve out of 500 possible jury candidates who met exactly these criteria. But do they really? Is it even possible to be neither positive nor negative towards someone like Donald Trump? After six weeks of trial and the start of jury deliberations, there are doubts about this.

Former US prosecutor Harry Litman writes on X that there is at least one Trump sympathizer among the jurors. This person is “less committed and easily irritable,” the lawyer said vaguely. The US magazine “The Bulwark” also quotes a trial spectator who claims that there are eight people on the jury “who definitely hate Trump.” However, the member mentioned by Litman is not one of them.

Donald Trump charged with 34 counts

Since May 29, 2024, the twelve jurors have been sitting together in a room behind courtroom 1530 of the criminal court in Manhattan, deliberating on the 34 counts of which the former US president is accused. The core issue is whether Trump concealed hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels in his financial statements in 2016. The prosecution accuses Donald Trump of document falsification and election fraud. He and his defense attorneys are, of course, pleading not guilty.

The jury has all the time in the world to make its decision, it just has to be unanimous. If the members cannot agree, the trial will be stopped and reopened. But that would take time, probably so much that the trial could not start again until after the presidential election in November. Some observers therefore believe that the Trump camp is planning to let the trial collapse in this way. Because many consider a complete acquittal of the defendant to be unlikely.

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Before their first day of deliberation, Judge Merchan briefed the jury on all relevant legal norms. They also received a crash course on the crucial evidence that can be used to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. The jurors also have the opportunity to listen to the trial testimony again. During deliberations, the jury can also ask questions of the judge, prosecutor and defense attorney. They then sit down together and discuss an answer.

Jury hears witness testimony again

On the first day behind closed doors, the jury took advantage of this opportunity and heard the testimony of Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, the main witness for the prosecution, and also that of David Pecker, the former publisher of the tabloid newspaper “National Enquirer”. A court assistant then read the transcripts to them. Pecker had testified that he had “bought off the market” stories that could damage Trump's candidacy so that no one would publish them.

The working day of a jury is clearly regulated: it begins at 9:30 a.m., finishes at 4:30 p.m. – and there is an hour's break at lunchtime. Since the jury is not isolated, the members go home in the evening. As does the defendant, by the way. Because Donald Trump has to stay in the courthouse for the entire duration of the jury deliberations.

Alternate jurors, the thankless role

In addition to the protagonists of the trial, there are a few (almost forgotten) supporting actors who have the thankless role of twiddling their thumbs: the alternate jurors. The same requirements apply to these six members as to the main jury; they too have followed the trial, but are condemned to do nothing until a juror drops out. Due to illness, for example. They do not take part in the jury deliberations themselves – and thus in the decision-making process.

Sources: DPA, Reuters, AP-News, Harry Littman on X, The Bulwark