The possibility of a prison sentence for Donald Trump in 2024 hangs in the balance of a federal appeals court, working on its schedule, while each passing day becomes crucial.
The criminal proceedings against Trump, involving charges of attempting to subvert the 2020 election, have been on hold for over 50 days.
These proceedings won’t resume until the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and likely the Supreme Court, resolves the key question: whether a former president, like Trump, is immune from criminal prosecution.
Even if the courts reject Trump’s immunity arguments, a likely outcome according to legal experts, the extended delays benefit Trump’s strategy of prolonging his trials.
These delays raise the possibility that, if he wins the 2024 presidency, Trump could evade charges by having the Justice Department terminate the prosecutions or even by pardoning himself.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, overseeing Trump’s federal election case, aims for an expeditious trial, officially scheduled to start on March 4.
However, the pending immunity appeal suggests a delay, with the earliest trial date possibly in late April. If the courts take additional weeks or months to deliver a final ruling, the trial might extend into the summer or fall.
If Trump secures the 2024 GOP presidential nomination by that point, he and his allies could pressure to postpone the trial until after the election, despite Chutkan’s intentions.
Proceeding with the trial during the campaign would require Trump’s presence in court for weeks, an obstacle he might use for fundraising and rallying supporters against perceived political prosecutions.
The current timeline is in the hands of a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit, which heard arguments on the immunity issue on Jan. 8. The court’s silence for over three weeks has created uncertainty, as there’s no mandated deadline for a ruling.
Legal experts expected a quick ruling after the arguments, but the delay prompts speculation about the internal workings of the appeals court, especially regarding seniority and internal procedures.
The timing of the court’s opinion could impact the potential Supreme Court battle, with Trump already indicating his intention to seek their judgment on a broad definition of presidential immunity.
The extended deliberation increases the likelihood that the Supreme Court might defer the issue into the fall, eliminating the possibility of a trial before the election. This timeline significantly influences whether Trump faces a criminal trial with potential jail time in 2024.
Apart from the Washington case, Trump is entangled in three other criminal cases in Florida, Georgia, and New York. The trial in the New York case is set for late March, while the Georgia case might be postponed to 2025.
The classified documents case in Florida, scheduled for May 20, also faces potential delays as pretrial deadlines are extended by a Trump-appointed judge.
The hiatus in the Washington case began on Dec. 7 when Trump appealed Chutkan’s ruling that no former president enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution. As long as the immunity question remains unresolved, Chutkan has acknowledged that Trump is not obligated to continue preparing for trial.