Jury instructed to treat Trump as ‘another member of the community’ in hush money trial

Jury instructed to treat Trump as ‘another member of the community’ in hush money trial
Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — In a lengthy jury instruction, Judge Juan Merchan asked jurors to treat the former president as “another member of the community” as they embark to determine Donald Trump’s fate in his hush money criminal trial.

“It is not my responsibility to judge the evidence here. It is yours,” Merchan said. “You are the judges of the facts, and you are responsible for deciding whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.”

Jurors were told not to hold Trump’s decision to not testify against him and to use their judgment in determining the credibility of untruthful or biased witnesses – an issue defense counsel repeatedly impressed upon members of the jury.

“There is no particular formula” to determine a witness’ credibility, Merchan said, and “you may consider whether the witness has any interest in the outcome of the case” – another matter that might weigh on jurors’ minds.

Merchan also described how jurors should interpret legal concepts from trial, such as “beyond a reasonable doubt,” “unlawful means,” “intent to defraud,” and “motive,” among others.

Crucially, while prosecutors must prove that that the business records were falsified in furtherance of an additional crime, “they need not prove that the other crime was, in fact, committed.”

In sum, “if the People satisfy their burden of proof, you must find the defendant guilty,” he said.

Merchan also advised that jury that they cannot rely solely on the testimony of Michael Cohen to convict the former president because Cohen is an accomplice to the alleged crime; instead, the jury can only use Cohen’s testimony if it is corroborated by evidence.

“In other words, even if you find the testimony of Michael Cohen to be believable, you may not convict the defendant solely upon that testimony unless you also find that it was corroborated by other evidence tending to connect the defendant with the commission of the crime,” Merchan told jurors.

Jurors appeared attentive throughout the instructions. Several were observed scribbling notes. Trump assumed his characteristic posture, leaning back in his chair and at times shutting his eyes. He fiddled with papers on his desk from time to time.

Merchan concluded his instructions at 11:23 a.m.

Prosecutors alleged that as part of a scheme to reimburse former Trump attorney Cohen for the payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, Trump fraudulently recorded $130,000 in expenses as the cost of legal services for Cohen.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

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