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Convicted Felon Donald Trump Is Facing a Long and Daunting Road

The former president’s life will get even more complicated in July, when he’s sentenced just days before the Republicans nominate him at their convention.

Jeenah Moon/Pool/Getty Images

Donald Trump made history again on Thursday by becoming the first president to be convicted of a crime. Twelve of his fellow New Yorkers found the former president guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records for his hush-money payments to an adult-film star during the 2016 election. What happens next will be a mixture of the familiar and the uncertain in the long quest to hold Trump accountable.

The conviction has no legal impact on Trump’s campaign for the presidency. While some states bar people with criminal convictions from holding state-level public office, the U.S. Constitution imposes no such restrictions on federal office-holders. Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs famously ran in the 1920 election while serving a prison sentence for sedition after encouraging draft resistance during World War I.

Shortly after the jury’s verdict was announced, Trump signaled that he plans to use the verdict as a campaign tool. “The real verdict is going to be [on] November 5 by the people,” he told reporters outside the courthouse, referring to the election date. Trump has often deflected from scandals and allegations by claiming that his perceived enemies are actually attacking his MAGA supporters, rather than himself, and he will likely make this an animating theme of his campaign.

It is unclear whether Trump will be able to vote for himself at the end of it, however. While he would theoretically be eligible to vote in New York as long as he is not imprisoned on Election Day, he recently changed his primary residence to Florida, which has a much stricter felon-disenfranchisement regime. Legal experts are divided on whether his felony conviction in New York would affect his voting rights in Florida.

Some things have stayed the same. Trump repeated many of his criticisms of the trial and the prosecutor. “This was a disgrace,” he complained to reporters. “This was a rigged trial by a crooked judge who was corrupt.” Journalists present inside the courtroom reported that Trump sat unresponsive and expressionless “with a glum look on his face,” according to The New York Times.

He is also about to enter the labyrinth of the American penal system for the first time. The next major step in the trial is the sentencing phase. Judge Juan Merchan has scheduled the hearing for July 11, a handful of days before Trump is set to be formally nominated at the Republican National Convention. He remains free on bond until then.

Under New York law, falsifying business records in the service of another crime is a class E felony. Each charge theoretically carries a prison sentence of between 16 months and four years. It is exceedingly unlikely that Trump will be sentenced to the maximum penalty for each of those charges. He may not even face prison time at all.

Over the next six weeks, Trump will meet with New York City’s probation department, which has the responsibility of writing pre-sentencing reports for people convicted in the city. That report will include potential reasons why he should receive a lighter sentence like probation. These could include Trump’s lack of prior criminal convictions, his advanced age, and the non-violent nature of these particular crimes.

Even sentencing will not end Trump’s courtroom appearances in this case. He has made clear that he plans to appeal the jury’s verdict and seek to have it overturned. During the trial, Trump’s lawyers made multiple efforts to preserve grounds for appeal that could be used to challenge a conviction. While some of these attempts were dubious, others might prove to be more fruitful.

For one thing, Trump might seek to challenge the underlying legal theory that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg used to prosecute him. Falsifying business records only becomes a class E felony if carried out in the service of another crime. Prosecutors raised multiple potential crimes that jurors could use to reach that conclusion, including violating federal election laws and evading federal and state taxes. Trump’s lawyers could challenge that theory on the basis that Trump was not convicted of any other crime.

Another route that Trump’s lawyers have already signaled they would pursue is Stormy Daniels’ testimony earlier this month. The adult-film star, with whom Trump allegedly had an extramarital affair in 2006, testified during the trial about receiving $130,000 in hush-money payments from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former legal fixer, in exchange for burying her story before the 2016 election. Illicitly routing those payments through Trump’s company and campaign formed the basis for the falsified business records charges.

Merchan limited prosecutors from introducing evidence about Trump’s other alleged infidelities, but rejected the Trump legal team’s efforts to block Daniels from testifying. While on the stand, Daniels went into exacting detail about her alleged sexual encounters with Trump. Witnesses are allowed to mention background details to bolster their credibility on the stand; Trump’s lawyers argued that Daniels went beyond that by claiming she had “blacked out” during the encounter. Todd Blanche, Trump’s lawyer, unsuccessfully sought a mistrial for those remarks and others, claiming that Daniels’ testimony was a “dog whistle for rape,” even though she did not allege it.

In past legal proceedings, Trump has also sought to challenge every aspect of a case or complaint against him in an effort to prevail. That could lead him to raise less fruitful lines of attack on appeal. Despite a gag order, for example, Trump has complained that Merchan’s daughter is a Democratic consultant and claimed it amounted to proof of bias. His legal team also previously sought to have the trial moved out of Manhattan, where Trump has lived for decades, because of the perceived political bias that he would allegedly face in the Democratic stronghold.

An appeal will likely take years to unfold, however, meaning that Trump will have to live with the conviction for now. His ultimate escape hatch may be the November election. If convicting a former president of a crime is unprecedented in American history, then the prospect that a sitting president might be under criminal sanctions while in office is completely uncharted waters. If Trump receives a prison sentence that would extend into a potential second term, it could set up a major legal battle over whether he must be released to go to the White House.

The Supreme Court, which has already gutted the Fourteenth Amendment’s Disqualification Clause for Trump’s sake, may be inclined to side with him on federalism grounds. State governments are generally prohibited from obstructing the federal government in carrying out its constitutional functions. Trump might ultimately argue that that principle extends to forbidding state governments from imprisoning a sitting president as well

Trump’s reputation for political escapology is legendary. He avoided conviction in two separate Senate impeachment trials and successfully delayed three other criminal trials from taking place before Election Day. But his luck finally ran out in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday afternoon. Trump is now a convicted felon despite his best efforts—and he will remain one for the foreseeable future.