An Unprecedented Presidential Arrest

Former president Donald Trump was arraigned in a Manhattan criminal court and faces 34 felony charges.

The streets of New York City were on high alert leading up to April 4, 2023, when former President Donald Trump made history by becoming the first president to be arrested and charged with criminal activity. The former president turned himself in at a Manhattan courthouse and was charged with 34 felony counts for falsifying New York business records. These crimes would normally be charged as misdemeanors but were increased to felonies as they were done in an effort to conceal other alleged crimes related to the 2016 election.

In a news conference, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg stated that “under New York State law, it is a felony to falsify business records with the intention of fraud and intent to conceal another crime.” It is classified as a Class E felony. 

The charges stem from payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claim they had an affair with Trump in the early 2000s, in order to prevent them from speaking about the alleged affairs before the 2016 election. Trump has denied both affairs. 

The payment to McDougal preceded the payment to Daniels, which were both arranged by Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen at the behest of the former president. The hush-money payments were at the center of a Manhattan grand jury investigation into whether Trump violated federal and state election laws.

Under Section 17-152 of New York’s election law, any two or more persons who conspire to promote or prevent the election of a person to public office by unlawful means and act upon such conspiracy shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Prosecutors have not yet said if this is the law they believe was violated, though it remains a possibility. 

Presiding Judge Juan Merchan prohibited the broadcasting of the arraignment, but photos released showed the former president looking dejected while sitting beside the lawyers in his defense team. After his arrest, he flew back to his Florida residence and delivered a 25-minute speech, telling his supporters, “The only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.” 

Trump, who is a Republican party front-runner for the 2024 presidential nomination, has maintained that his arrest is political persecution and part of a “witch hunt” to prevent him from taking office again. While it’s unlikely he will face prison time if convicted, the chance of prison still looms. 

“He should have to serve time in prison like anyone else,” said senior Ryn Richards. “He is the reason that people don’t trust election results in a country like America where we absolutely should. He’s doing something that’s really dangerous to democracy by turning people against not just the government but the systems that put the government in place.” 

The former president pleaded not guilty to all charges and his defense team is expected to file motions to have the case dismissed or transferred out of Manhattan.