Posts misrepresent New York judge’s instructions to jury in Trump hush money trial

CLAIM: New York Judge Juan M. Merchan told the jury in former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial that they don’t need a unanimous verdict to convict Trump.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Merchan said that to convict Trump the jury will have to find unanimously, on each of 34 felony counts, that he falsified business records and that he did so with the intent of concealing another crime — in this case, violating a state election law during his 2016 campaign. The judge said jurors could consider three different ways the law may have been broken and that they don’t have to be unanimous on this decision.

THE FACTS: As jury deliberations began Wednesday in Trump’s trial, social media users spread false information about Merchan’s instructions to the seven men and five women who will determine the outcome in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

“How is this even a fair trial?” reads one Instagram post that had received more than 8,000 likes as of Wednesday. “The judge just announced that the jury does not even have to be unanimous in their judgment to convict President Trump! This entire process was rigged from the start.”

An X post reads: “Judge Merchan has told the jury that they do NOT NEED unanimity to convict. They do not have to all agree on what occurred. 4 can agree on one crime, 4 on a different one, and the other 4 on another. He will treat 4-4-4 as a UNANIMOUS verdict.”

But these claims distort Merchan’s instructions.

The judge told the jury that to convict Trump on any given charge, they will have to find unanimously — that is, all 12 jurors must agree — that the former president created a fraudulent entry in his company’s records or caused someone else to do so, and that he did so with the intent of committing or concealing a crime.

Prosecutors say the crime Trump committed or hid is a violation of a New York election law making it illegal for two or more conspirators “to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means.”

Merchan gave the jurors three possible “unlawful means” they can apply to Trump’s charges: falsifying other business records, breaking the Federal Election Campaign Act or submitting false information on a tax return.

For a conviction, each juror would have to find that at least one of those three things happened, but they don’t have to agree unanimously on which it was.

Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree as part of a scheme to bury damaging stories that he feared could hurt his 2016 campaign, particularly as his reputation was suffering at the time from comments he had made about women.
This is part of the AP’s effort to address widely shared false and misleading information that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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