Trump's verdict has sparked a “weaponization war of the criminal justice system,” legal experts warn

Former President Trump's unprecedented criminal conviction has opened a dark chapter in the history of the American criminal justice system, according to several legal experts.

A jury in New York on Thursday found Trump guilty of 34 felonies for falsifying company records in what prosecutors called a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election. Trump is now the first former president ever convicted of a crime. He will be sentenced on July 11 and could possibly be sent to prison.

Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz is among those who have called the facts of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's case against Trump an “absolute joke.” He warned Friday that if Trump can't get justice in New York through the appeals process, it will be an open window for Republican prosecutors to attack Democrats in deep-red districts.

“This is the beginning of a war to weaponize the criminal justice system,” Dershowtz said on “Mornings with Maria” on FOX Business. “The justice system has failed. Our system of checks and balances, the great contribution of the American Constitution, failed yesterday.”

TRUMP NY SENTENCE UP TO 4 DAYS BEFORE REPUBLIC CONVENTION

Former President Donald Trump will appear in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Thursday, May 30, 2024. The jury found Trump guilty of 34 counts of falsifying company records. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Trump's critics would call this dire warning hyperbole dangerous at best, or at worst. They argue that Trump's historic conviction, irregular as the charges were, was handed down by a jury of his peers in a court where Trump was presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“This was a conviction by a jury of Americans who listened to the evidence and made their decision,” said Rachel Kleinfeld, senior fellow at the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in comments to the New York Times. York Times. “If you undermine the courts the way elections have already been undermined, there is no peaceful way to resolve disagreements.”

Trump and many of his supporters say otherwise: that this was the product of a blatant political prosecution brought by Bragg, a Democrat who campaigned on the promise of “getting Trump,” presided over by Judge Juan Merchan – who previously donated $35 to an anti-political organization. – Trump's political committee – and located in a county where only 12% of residents eligible to become jurors voted for Trump in 2020.

“The entire case was rigged from day one – from the floor to the judge,” Trump told Fox News Digital's Brooke Singman in an exclusive interview after the verdict was handed down. He maintains his innocence and has accused President Biden and the Democratic Party of trying to damage his presidential campaign through the legal system.

TRUMP GUILTY ON ALL CRIMINAL CHARGES IN NEW YORK

DA Bragg in press

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks after the guilty verdict in former President Donald Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified company records to hide money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, at a news conference in New York , on May 30, 2024 . (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

“We couldn't get a fair trial,” he said. “It's a sad day for New York and a sad day for the country.”

Bragg has denied any political motives in his successful prosecution of Trump, saying his office “did our job,” which was to “follow the facts and the law without fear or favor.”

“The only vote that matters is the jury's vote. And the jury has spoken,” Bragg said Thursday evening.

But Staten Island criminal defense attorney Louis Gelmorino said Bragg and other Democratic officials who made campaign promises to prosecute Trump were never given a chance to advance their case.

“Letitia James, Fani Willis and Alvin Bragg all campaigned on the fact that they were going to get Trump. They all got elected and they all went right after Trump. And they should all have been recalled, everyone in their offices should have been recalled.” We were rebuffed because of the statements they made on the campaign trail,” Gelormino said, referring to New York Attorney General Letitia James and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in Atlanta.

I was inside the courthouse when the judge closed the Trump trial, what I saw shocked me: ALAN DERSHOWITZ

Donald Trump reacts as the verdict is read in his criminal trial

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump reacts as the verdict is read in his criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to hide money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, on May 30, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. (REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg)

James had called Trump a “con artist” and “carnival barker” and promised to shine a “bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings” before she was elected in 2018. She led a successful prosecution of the Trump Organization for fraud by falsely inflating the value of its assets. Trump and his lawyers argued that he never told anyone to increase the value of his assets and that, if there were discrepancies, no one was harmed.

Willis has filed charges against Trump and fourteen co-defendants alleging an alleged conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. After winning the Democratic primary for office in March, she said “the train is coming” for Trump and his co-defendants.

“It's very clear that they are using the law to prevent Trump from running for office,” Gelormino said. He criticized Bragg's prosecutorial decisions in New York, noting that the district attorney has taken a soft approach to violent crimes while viciously pursuing Trump.

“In Manhattan you can deal a house full of drugs, and at best they will try not to prosecute you or put you in a program. You can be arrested in Manhattan for all kinds of crimes, and they will try to prosecute you. But Bragg is cracking down on white-collar crime, and we see it every day as street crime, violent crime and drugs are unleashed. And he does it because that is not his constituency,” he said.

Biden urges respect for justice system after Trump's conviction, while publicly ignoring SCOTUS rulings

David Gelman, a New Jersey-based a criminal lawyer and a former deputy district attorney, said anyone who looks at how the Trump case was handled in New York and doesn't think it was “weaponized” against Trump is “lying to themselves.”

“This is the first time a person has ever been tried for this type of crime in New York. Is it a coincidence that this happened to President Trump in the middle of a presidential campaign in which he is the frontrunner?” he asked. “I do not think so.”

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He noted that the Federal Elections Commission, the Justice Department, the Southern District of New York and Bragg's predecessor each previously declined to prosecute Trump because they believed there was not enough evidence of a crime.

“The problem now is that this could be common as we persecute our opponents to prevent them from getting elected,” he warned. “This does not make us better than countries like Russia or China.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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