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Feature

A Jury of Trump’s Peers Weighs In

We asked 12 people with criminal convictions what they think of the verdict in Trump’s hush money trial.

Former President Donald Trump, wearing a yellow tie with a dark-red graphical pattern, sits at a courtroom table, his hands folded, looking into the camera, while his defense attorney sits alongside him and a court officer stands watch behind them.
Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom for his trial at the Manhattan criminal courthouse in New York on May 21, 2024.

Donald J. Trump was convicted last week of falsifying records to cover up accusations of a sexual liaison with adult film actress Stormy Daniels before his 2016 presidential campaign. A jury found him guilty on all 34 counts. The former president is now among millions of Americans with criminal records.

Trump’s views on the criminal justice system have swung widely over the years. He notoriously championed the conviction of the Central Park Five. He has twice campaigned on “law and order,” securing the support of several police unions. And he signed several executive orders to “fight crime, gangs and drugs.” During his presidency, Trump styled himself as a reformer hoping to improve a broken system. He signed the First Step Act, which shortened some excessive federal prison sentences and improved prison conditions. And he pardoned many of his political allies, including former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

As his own legal troubles mounted, Trump criticized the system as politically biased and corrupt. While opponents see politics behind Trump’s attacks on the system, the former president has highlighted a core critique echoed by millions of Americans with criminal records: It is profoundly unfair and biased. We asked a handful of currently and formerly incarcerated people — some convicted of white-collar crimes, others of violent crimes — to reflect on what his conviction means for the country and how it compares to their experiences. Many grappled with what it really means to receive a fair trial. These responses are written in their own words, but The Marshall Project has condensed some for clarity.

Ronnie Morgan

I think he needs to come to prison for a few months to see just how bad it is and get out and become president again [and] fix the prison system.

Ronnie Morgan is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution, Fort Dix, in New Jersey.

Donnell Genyard

In my eyes, if Trump becomes president, this verdict will make the criminal justice system worse. He has promised vengeance against it. The vengeance is for the defendants and not the victims of crime. Thus, if Trump gets elected, victims of crime will not feel comfortable talking to the administration of justice because they will feel like it’s pointless. With no confidence in the criminal justice system, crimes will be committed more frequently and witnesses will feel less compelled to cooperate with authorities. In a nutshell, a Trump vote is great for defendants but bad for victims of crime.

I think the criminal justice system has treated Trump fairly. He’s not incarcerated. I wish that I could verbally attack the administration of justice as he has. Again, if I would have done what he did, I would have been thrown in prison. Since he’s not getting that, and will be sentenced to either (1) community service or (2) probation, he will be getting “legally” a “fair” sentence.

Donnell Genyard was formerly incarcerated in New York. He is the founder of Rehabilitation Speaks, a platform that helps people affected by the system show their talent.

Darnell C. Butcher

My view of the justice system is that it is not fair and never has been. I think that Trump's conviction only proves that. And for the record, I am definitely not a Trump fan! The message that I think that it sends to the public is that no one is above the law. I do not think that his trial was fair. He's never been convicted before, and these are all non-violent offenses. Probation is good enough. He's still a convicted felon now. I have absolutely no idea what's going to happen next. But I can't wait to see it!

Darnell C. Butcher is currently incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution, Elkton, in Ohio.

Leighton Johnson

Do you think the criminal justice system was fair to Trump?

They was way more fair to him than they would be to a Black man.

What do you think will happen next?

I’m not sure, but I certainly am not holding my breath in the hope that there will be any major changes for the hood. So I really don’t care beyond getting some glee in seeing “The Don” so-called being “held accountable.”

Leighton Johnson was formerly incarcerated in Connecticut. He is an activist, mentor, teacher and nonprofit CEO for I Am The Voice of Legacy Co.

Thad Bereday

The message seems based on whatever our highly polarized electorate wants to see. For the left and Never Trumpers, it’s the vindication of what they’ve always known. For those in Trump world, it’s confirmation of his narrative that the system is irrevocably broken. For those of us in the middle, it’s a mixed message. The criminal legal system is fundamentally unfair, and Trump received the same treatment that all criminal defendants receive. On the other hand, he did engage in the alleged behavior and deserves to be held accountable. Rather than complain by adopting a victim narrative, Trump should embrace his role in his own conduct and seek a path to redemption.

Do you think the criminal justice system was fair to Trump?

No. Like many prosecutions, I think the Manhattan district attorney was highly motivated politically. But that’s nothing new. Thousands of criminal defendants receive similar unfair treatment all the time. In this sense, Trump was treated no differently than other criminal defendants and got “equal treatment” under the law.

Do you think he should get prison or probation?

I think prison should be reserved for the worst offenses. This type of misconduct certainly does not merit prison time.

Thad Bereday, a former attorney based in Tampa, Florida, was formerly incarcerated until he was pardoned by then-President Trump. He is the host of the Redemption Radio podcast.

Michael Shane Hale

Donald Trump was afforded something a lot of people don't get — legal representation at a trial. Most cases are resolved through plea bargaining. Donald Trump was mentored by Roy Cohen, an attorney who understood how to work the system. Donald Trump was relying on the strategy that with a top-notch legal team, he could win. The system is designed to reward those with resources. Those people who do not have resources are often left [to be aided by] people whose caseloads are unreal.

Trump rolled the dice. He had all the resources available to overcome the prosecution. He still has his appeal. He was provided due process. Donald Trump didn't have to testify. Jury instructions were fair because he was not penalized for not testifying.

This process did show that Donald Trump was not penalized like others who violated a gag order like Trump did. Because of who he is, Trump was not punished for his behavior.

Michael Shane Hale is currently incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York.

Paul Cortez

Prison is never the solution — even for Trump. As a prison abolitionist, I must be on the side of alternative ways of dealing with legal matters. A fine and probation would be most suitable for this moment in time.

Paul Cortez is currently incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York.

Jasma Credle

The public is given a rude awakening when they realize that equal rights for all people never existed in the first place. Despite being found guilty, Trump will not serve a day in prison. If that’s the case, all felons should receive fair treatment and should not be subjected to discrimination. Since Trump can live his life and be accepted, then so should every American who has committed a felony. Therefore, the laws pertaining to those with felonies need to change. Everyone has the same rights!

Jasma Credle was formerly incarcerated in New York. She relocated to Atlanta, where she is a health educator at the Wholistic Stress Control Institute.

David Annarelli

What message do you think this sends to the public?

No one trusts or believes the government. No one has faith in the laws of this country or those that enforce them, particularly due to the obvious “one law for me another for thee” aristocracy that exists.

Do you think the criminal justice system was fair to Trump?

No. There were glaring issues throughout the entire trial, being noted by legal experts across [the] political spectrum. Witness credibility, judicial bias (judge's known political participation), jury pool, [and] jury instructions being the key points. As a jailhouse lawyer, and member of the Jailhouse Lawyer's Initiative, there were other things I heard that made me want to see the trial record with my own eyes.

Do you think Trump should get prison or probation?

If he gets either, I'll be surprised. I expect he will win on appeal and have the conviction overturned. If not, he will get probation. His probation will have so few restrictions that it will be pointless, and an insult to everyone currently navigating the system. If (when?) he wins the election, I imagine he will promptly pardon himself or find some way to erase and expunge the conviction.

David Annarelli is a father, musician, activist and writer who is currently incarcerated at the Green Rock Correctional Center in Virginia.

Anthony Arriaga

This verdict further corroborates that when the system wants you, they get you. I agree with Trump that it was a witch hunt. I believe it sends a message to the world that we would have the audacity to put our former president on trial for matters that should have been resolved in a civil proceeding. This hush-money trial was a sham. Plenty of people settle their disputes in civil proceedings. I definitely think Trump should get probation or a suspended sentence.

What do I think will happen next... a trend of trials against politicians, including presidents fearing to do their jobs anticipating that they can be tried, convicted and imprisoned for violating state laws. If we could try our former president, I can't see why assistant attorney generals, police officers/detectives and prosecutors can't be tried as well for destroying individuals and their families’ lives by committing unlawful acts to secure convictions! I am in a prison setting where there are people who root for the prosecutor and cheer for convictions...how times have changed.

Anthony Arriaga is currently incarcerated at Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York.

Joseph Wilson

Allowing space for a person who has caused harm to be accountable — stop the immediate harm, recognize the harm, recognize the consequences of harm, make repairs for the harm, change harmful attitudes that allow for harm to repeat, become a healthy member of the community — is a lot more challenging. It takes actual work.

Accountability is less likely to be demonstrated by accused persons as long as the justice system remains adversarial. It's all about revenge, punishment, and statistics.

Does prison time or probation produce accountability? If the answer is no, then there should be another penalty. Making the harmed party whole without causing harm to the person who caused harm should be considered, whatever the penalty.

Joseph Wilson is a composer, librettist, singer, songwriter, pianist and co-founder of the Sing Sing Family Collective, who is currently incarcerated at Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York.

Jason Mccrickard

Due to Trump's blatant disregard to his own faults, he has convinced not only himself but at least 48% of Americans that he has done no wrongdoing and that this is all political.

This sends mixed messages to all Americans, causing us to become even more divided. We are shifting from the United States of America to a politically divided America, which, in my opinion, makes us look very weak and vulnerable as a country.

Send a message to Mr. Trump with his sentence, (keeping in mind that doing jail time would entail much more than the average person) Give him 2.5 years suspended and 2 years probation.

For what is to come next…that my friend, is a great question that only time can tell.

America is divided, and I strongly feel that no matter who wins this November there is going to be unrest, protests and major disruptions to follow.

Jason Mccrickard is currently incarcerated at St. Bridges Correctional Center in Virginia.

Martin Garcia, Lawrence Bartley, Joseph Neff and Nicole Lewis contributed to this story.