Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty on April 4 to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records to conceal alleged hush money payments. Social media posts misleadingly claim Trump is “facing up to 30+ years” in prison if convicted. But legal experts said it is unlikely Trump would serve any time in prison.
Former President Donald Trump was arraigned on April 4 in a Manhattan courtroom on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — the first criminal indictment filed against a former U.S. president.
As we’ve written before, the case centers on allegations that Trump conspired during the 2016 presidential election to pay $130,000 to silence porn actor Stormy Daniels about a sexual encounter and then falsified business records to conceal state and federal election law violations.
Following the arraignment, social media users began making misleading predictions about a potential prison sentence for Trump if he were convicted.
Under New York’s state penal code, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E non-violent felony. Potential jail time for the offense can range from one and one-third to four years in prison.
An April 4 Instagram post, which includes a fake, computer-generated image of Trump being arrested, is captioned with the claim that Trump is “facing up to 30+ years if found guilty.” The post received more than 9,000 likes.
That same day, conservative comedian Terrence K. Williams took the claim further on Facebook, misleadingly declaring, “President Trump is facing 136 years in prison if he’s found guilty of all 34 felonies.” That post received more than 85,000 views and more than 6,000 likes.
Misreading the State Penal Code
Legal experts told FactCheck.org that a sentence involving jail time is unlikely for Trump — and, if it were imposed, the sentence wouldn’t be nearly as long as the posts suggest.
It is uncommon for first-time offenders of Class E non-violent felonies to receive jail time. (Probation, fines and mandatory community service are more common types of sentences.)
“A typical white collar offender, convicted of a non-violent crime, with no prior record, would not receive prison time,” John C. Coffee, Jr., professor of criminal justice at Columbia Law School, told us in an April 5 email.
Even if Trump were convicted and sentenced to jail time, which Coffee suggested could happen if a judge wanted “to signal that ‘No Man is Above the Law,'” the total sentence wouldn’t approach “30+ years,” as the Instagram post suggested.
That is because the majority of non-violent felony sentences are served concurrently, or simultaneously, rather than consecutively, which occurs when a convict is imprisoned for the total time accumulated from multiple charges. A concurrent sentence would mean that Trump couldn’t be imprisoned for any time longer than four years, the maximum possible sentence for one count of falsifying business records.
It is “likely that his sentences for the various counts would run concurrently. That would mean a maximum of four years in prison,” Claire Finkelstein, director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, told us in an email on April 5.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
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revengeworld. “(SWIPE) #DonaldTrump has officially turned himself in and placed under arrest. He’s facing up to 30+ years if found guilty.. What are y’all thoughts on this!? Follow @revengeworld for More!!” Instagram. 4 Apr 2023.
Terrence K Williams. “Trump is facing a 136 YEARS IN PRISON. 34 felony counts! F*** These Evil Democrats. President Trump is under Arrest. This is sickening, heartbreaking and destructive.” Facebook. 4 Apr 2023.
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