No demonstrations. No shouts of “Lock him up!” No blustering. No intimidation. No statements of superiority. No violence. On Tuesday afternoon, despite the entourage that accompanied him, Donald Trump stood before a New York trial judge and spoke, on his own, the words of an accused person, “Not guilty.” He is a citizen who has been charged by indictment with 34 felonies. He, like any other defendant, elected to avail himself of the full panoply of rights provided for him in the Sixth Amendment to Constitution of the United States.
The allegations against him are numerous and complicated. He has substantial due process rights: to a trial by jury, representation by counsel, a jury trial, to confront the witnesses against him, to compel the presence of witnesses he wishes to have testify on his own behalf and to have the State of New York prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Thanks to the recent decision in Ramos v. Louisiana a jury must find him guilty, or not, unanimously.
No other president has ever been charged with a felony while in, or after leaving, office. (I have purposely excluded former Vice-President Spiro Agnew, who was an Article II elected officer when he was indicted while in office and pleaded guilty to numerous felonies in 1973, just before he resigned). But, Donald Trump is being treated by the system no better, nor worse, than any other accused.
It does not matter what verdict may be reached, although, many of us have our preference. What really matters is that the criminal justice system is at work and evidencing that no person is above the law, just as no person should be below the law.
Donald Trump stood alone and entered his plea like every other defendant. Just as it should be. I, for one, celebrate this day. Not because the man entering the plea was Donald Trump, but because the faith I have in the system I have spent my life defending as a prosecutor, defense attorney and judge has once again been validated.