Judge Protects Juror Identities and Warns Trump About Gag Order in First Criminal Trial of Former President, Citing Potential for Bribery, Jury Tampering, or Physical Harm

Left: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg participated in a press conference on December 4, 2023, addressing the arrests and seizure of illegal firearms. (Lev Radin/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images).

Right: Former President Donald Trump exited Manhattan criminal court on Thursday, February 15, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

In New York, a judge has issued a protective order to safeguard the identities of jurors who will be deciding on the allegations against Donald Trump. This decision comes after a history of public attacks on trial jurors and grand jurors by the former president. The allegations involve the falsification of records to conceal hush money payments made to a porn star before the 2016 election.

The decision made by Manhattan Judge Juan Manuel Merchan will prevent the public from accessing the names and personal information of the jurors. However, both Trump and his legal team, as well as the prosecutors, will still be able to access this information. Normally, juror names are considered public record, but in cases where there may be a potential threat to their safety due to the charges being tried or the individuals involved, the names can be sealed.

According to Merchan, the court determined that there is enough evidence to suggest the possibility of bribery, jury tampering, or physical harm or harassment of jurors in the case of Trump.

The order states that, as per the Defendant’s request, this Court will take necessary actions to reduce any possible bias towards either party. These measures may involve withholding information about the protective measures unless absolutely necessary to address juror concerns, offering impartial explanations for the procedures, and providing appropriate jury instructions.

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Prosecutors and Trump have until March 15 to submit any suggestions or instructions to limit bias. If they cannot agree on the wording, both parties must present their own proposals by March 18.

The order emphasizes that the courtroom will remain accessible to the press and public during jury selection proceedings, as is customary.

During the defamation case in New York, Trump was not aware of the names of the jurors he faced, such as E. Jean Carroll. However, in this trial, he will have access to not only their names but also their addresses and places of employment.

Both prosecutors and attorneys for the former president were eagerly anticipating Thursday’s rulings, including whether the judge would impose a gag order. During Trump’s arraignment last April, he received a warning not to publicly make any inflammatory remarks about the case.

During the arraignment, the judge instructed the defense counsel to communicate with their client and others involved, reminding them to refrain from making statements that could potentially provoke violence or civil unrest. This guidance was documented in a partial transcript from the arraignment, which is included in Merchan’s order.

The judge also warned Trump not to make any statements that could endanger the safety of the court’s proceedings or any individual.

In his recent order, the judge made sure to highlight two occasions where the ex-president explicitly acknowledged that he was not allowed to make “disruptive” remarks during the proceedings and that if he did, he would forfeit his right to be present. At that time, Merchan emphasized to Trump and his legal team that he was making an effort to accommodate his freedom of speech as he continues his campaign for the 2024 presidential election and as the trial unfolds.

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However, he had certain boundaries that he anticipated would be upheld.

According to Merchan, in April he stated that the accused individual has complete freedom to deny the charges, defend himself against them, and campaign. As long as these actions do not violate the specific terms of the protective order, he is free to engage in various activities.

At the moment, though, the judge has only issued a warning.

ORDERED, that a decision on the People’s motion for this Court to explicitly provide notice to Defendant that any harassing or disruptive conduct that threatens the safety or integrity of the jury may result in forfeiture of Defendant’s access to juror names is reserved pending this Court’s decision on the People’s motion for an order restricting extrajudicial statements.

According to Merchan, last year he emphasized that Trump and other parties should be aware that they have the ability to address the majority of the evidence, as most of it originated from Trump’s defense. However, he cautioned against engaging in personal attacks or revealing personal information such as names, addresses, cell phone numbers, identities, or dates of birth.

According to him, there is no need for it to promote his campaign.

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