NEW YORK—Every day, hundreds of people are taken into law enforcement custody in New York City. Former President Donald Trump is expected to become one of them next week.
Trump was indicted on charges involving payments made during his 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter, his lawyers confirmed Thursday. It’s the first criminal case ever brought against a former US president.
Trump—a Republican who assailed the case Thursday as a Democratic prosecutor’s “political persecution” of “a completely innocent person”—is expected to turn himself in to authorities next week, according to a person familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly. The person said the details of a surrender are still being worked out.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said it had contacted Trump’s lawyer to coordinate his surrender and arraignment.
For any New York defendant, poor or powerful, answering criminal charges means being fingerprinted and photographed, fielding basic questions such as name and birthdate, and getting arraigned. All told, defendants are typically detained for at least several hours.
There can be differences in where the different steps happen, how long they take, whether handcuffs come out and other particulars. A lot depends on the severity of the case and whether defendants arrange to turn themselves in.
But there is no playbook for booking an ex-president with US Secret Service protection. Agents are tasked with the protection of former presidents unless and until they say they don’t need it. Trump has kept his detail, so agents would need to be by his side at all times.
“This would be a unique outlier,” said Jeremy Saland, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor in Manhattan.
If Trump gets indicted, expect a carefully choreographed and relatively quick process and release without bail (as is common in New York)—and with a focus on security. A former president isn’t likely to be paraded in cuffs across a sidewalk or through a crowded courthouse hallway, Saland predicts. “It’s a public forum, but safety is also paramount,” he notes.
If defendants are notified of an indictment or an impending arrest, they often arrange to turn themselves in. Doing so can smooth the process and strengthen arguments for bail by showing that they aren’t evading the case.
For example, when the former finance chief of Trump’s company, Allen Weisselberg, was indicted in Manhattan on tax fraud charges in 2021, he was able to turn himself in at a courthouse side door before normal workday hours.
The aim was “to reduce the likelihood that the surrender would become a media frenzy,” his lawyers wrote in a subsequent court filing.
Weisselberg arrived around 6:15 a.m. and was taken to what his attorneys described as a “holding room” for booking, an interview about potential release, and other procedures. To pass the time, he’d brought a book—“Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan’s Soul”—and his lawyers supplied him with a snack, a facemask, breath mints and other items, according to the filing.
Weisselberg was arraigned and released about eight hours later, after being walked into a courtroom past a phalanx of news cameras in the hallway. (Weisselberg eventually pleaded guilty to dodging taxes on job perks, including a free apartment and school tuition for his grandchildren.)
Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, on the other hand, turned himself in at a Manhattan police station in 2018 to face rape and criminal sex act charges. He was briefly in a stationhouse cell, flipping through a biography of famed film director Elia Kazan, before being led out in handcuffs and taken to court under the gaze of journalists on the sidewalk—and other suspects in a courthouse booking area, where some hollered, “Yo, Harvey!”
Within about three hours after his surrender, Weinstein was arraigned and released on electronic monitoring and $1 million bail. (Weinstein was eventually convicted; his appeal is now before New York’s highest court. He’s also been convicted on similar charges in Los Angeles.)
But even a scheduled arrest is still an arrest. Defendants have to give up cellphones and some other personal items for safekeeping (and, in some cases, potential evidence), and lawyers generally aren’t allowed to accompany their clients through the process. Attorneys often advise traveling light and staying mum.
“Don’t make any statements. Because you think you’re helping your situation, but they can just use your statements against you—because you get caught up in the moment, you get nervous,” says Gianni Karmily, a defense lawyer who practices in New York City and on Long Island.
Many arrests in New York City aren’t preplanned. That can be a very different experience for defendants, even prominent ones.
When a hotel housekeeper accused then-International Monetary Fund chief and potential French presidential contender Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her in 2011, he was pulled off a plane at Kennedy Airport.
Strauss-Kahn, who said his encounter with the woman was consensual, spent about 36 hours being questioned, arrested, undergoing various exams and waiting in such spots as a courthouse holding pen before being arraigned and jailed without bail.
After several days at the city’s notorious Rikers Island jail, Strauss-Kahn was allowed out on $1 million bail, under house arrest with armed guards.
Manhattan prosecutors eventually dropped the criminal case against Strauss-Kahn, who later settled a civil suit brought by his accuser. AP