What Are Trump’s Indictments and How Much Prison Time Would He Serve?

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #98 | By: Arvind Salem | September 25, 2023
Photo taken from: ndtv.com


Former President Donald Trump has been faced with a number of criminal prosecutions, each accompanied by a whole host of indictments. All told, Donald Trump faces 91 felony counts across 4 cases, which will likely embroil him in legal battles for the near future. It also exposes to serving  581.5 years of prison time.This Brief will explain what each charge means (if it’s not self-explanatory) and what criminal action corresponds to the charge. As such, it assumes that the reader has a general knowledge of the facts of each of the four cases (if you need a refresher or want to learn the facts and issues for the first time see my briefs on the Georgia election interference case, the January 6th case, the classified documents case, and the hush money case).

In the most recent case brought against him by the state of Georgia Donald Trump faces 13 felony counts. Here’s what they all mean:

  1. Violation of the George RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act- The prosecution has characterized Trump and his network of allies working to overturn the 2020 election as a criminal organization engaged and conspiring to engage in criminal enterprise, which is why this statute, normally associated with organized crime, is used in this case.
  2. Solicitation of Violation of Oath By Public Officer (Thrice)- This refers to Trump’s attempts to persuade many officials to violate their oaths of office, including his infamous call with Georgia’s Secretary of State pressuring him to find more votes.
  3. Conspiracy to Commit Impersonating a Public Officer- This refers to Trump’s plans to assemble a state of fake electors to give Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump.
  4. Conspiracy to Commit Forgery in the First Degree- This is related to his fake elector scheme, in which he would’ve meant he would’ve had to forge a fake slate with the intent to defraud.
  5. Conspiracy to Commit False Statements and Writings (Twice)- This refers to Trump’s fake elector scheme and his claims of voter fraud, and statements and writings that he planned to make related to those efforts. For this charge, the prosecution will have to prove that Trump knew he was lying.
  6. False Statements and Writings (Twice)- The false statement charge applies to anyone who “knowingly and willfully falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; makes a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or makes or uses any false writing or document”  despite knowing the statement is false, which Trump allegedly did in the fake elector scheme and call with the Georgia Secretary of State.
  7. Conspiracy to Commit Filing False Documents and Filing False Documents ( Two separate charges, but related to the same event)- The prosecution argues that Trump filed a false document when he signed a court filing that alleged there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia, even though he allegedly knew there wasn’t. He was also conspiring to file false documents as part of the fake elector scheme.
  8. Conspiracy to Commit Forgery in the First Degree- This makes it a crime to conspire to write or alter writing, intending to defraud, which Trump allegedly did as part of the fake elector scheme.

The maximum possible prison sentence for this case is 76.5 years: the RICO charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, 3 years for each count of solicitation (9 years total), 2.5 years for conspiracy to impersonate a public official, 7.5 years for each count of conspiracy to commit forgery (15 years total), five years for false statements (10 years total), 2.5 years for conspiracy to commit false statements (5 years total), 10 years for filing false documents, and five years for conspiracy to file false documents.

The case immediately before that was a federal case against Trump brought by special prosecutor Jack Smith related to the same core issue: Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, but this time concerning the events of January 6th. In this case, Trump faces 4 felony charges. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Conspiracy to Defraud the United States- This refers to Trump spreading lies that the election was stolen, while allegedly knowing it wasn’t true, and for attempting to discount votes in an effort to win the 2020 election.
  2. Conspiracy to Obstruct an Official Proceeding- This refers to Trump’s alleged plan to obstruct the certification of electoral votes, an official proceeding.
  3. Obstruction of and Attempt to Obstruct an Official Proceeding- This refers to all the attempts that Trump and his allies made to obstruct the official certification of the votes in Congress from Election Day to January 6th.
  4. Conspiracy Against Rights- This refers to Trump and the co-conspirator’s attempts to disenfranchise people by threatening, oppressing, and intimidating them.

This case carries a maximum possible prison sentence of 55 years : 5 years for conspiracy to defraud, 20 years for each obstruction charge (40 total), and 10 for conspiracy against rights.

Before the January 6th indictment, Jack Smith indicted President Trump for alleged illegal mishandling of classified documents. Trump faces 40 felony counts based on the following actions:

  1. Violation of the Espionage Act: President Trump allegedly willfully retained classified documents that he was no longer entitled to have after the end of his presidency and refused to return them. The prosecution charged him with this violation for 32 documents, with each violation being one count.
  2. Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice: President Trump devised a conspiracy to ensure that the documents wouldn’t be available to a grand jury, which is an official proceeding, which means that devising this conspiracy constitutes a conspiracy to obstruct justice.
  3. Witholding a Document or Record: This refers to Trump attempting to persuade his lawyer to hide the documents from federal investigators and moving the documents so that his lawyer could not find the documents and present them to the grand jury.
  4. Corruptly Concealing a Document or Record: This refers to the same offense discussing in the previous charge, but the difference is that the previous charge penalizes the lie while this charge penalizes Trump for the fact that the documents could not presented to a grand jury (as a result of the duplicity that was discussed in the previous charge).
  5. Concealing a Document in a Federal Investigation: This refers to Trump repeatedly covering up his continued possession of the documents from the FBI.
  6. Scheme to Conceal: This refers to the scheme for the corresponding crime covered in the previous charge (scheming to conceal the document from the FBI).
  7. False Statements and Representations: By lying to his lawyers about where the documents were, Trump caused his lawyers to submit false statements to the grand jury while under oath, and the lawyers had no way of knowing that the statements were false.
  8. Altering, Destroying, Mutilating, or Concealing an Object: This charge was added on the superseding indictment relating to the new accusation that Trump ordered one of his employees to delete footage from Mar-a-Lago that was subpoenaed by a grand jury.

This case carries a theoretical maximum prison sentence of 450 years (if Trump was convicted of all counts and given the maximum sentence for each): the willful retention charges carry 10 years each (320 total and item 1 on the list), the obstruction charges carry 20 years (120 total, items 2-5 and 8 on the list) and false statement charges carry 5 years each (10 total, items 6 and 7 on the list).

Finally, there’s Trump’s first indictment related to hush money payments to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election. He is charged on 34 felony counts in this case. All of them stem from the charge of falsifying business records in the first degree: referring to Trump falsely entering business records to cover up payments to Stormy Daniels. The prosecution identified 34 instances of this that they want to sentence Trump for, leading to 34 felony counts based on one charge. Each felony count carries a maximum sentence of 4 years, leading to a 136 Years Maximum sentence.

Engagement Resources:

Winred allows people to donate money to Republican candidates to support their campaign. Readers interested in supporting President Trump or other members of the Republican party may find that this is a useful way to convey their support and help the Republican cause.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School is an organization that promotes reforms to the American democracy and argues against many practices today such as gerrymandering and mass incarceration. Readers who are concerned about the health of democracy in light of this indictment may wish to support the Brennan Center and help it advance its proposed reforms.

Act for America is an organization that seeks to educate and mobilize Americans against foreign and domestic threats, and advocates for bills to achieve these aims. Those who feel that this indictment constitutes a breakdown of justice may wish to support this organization.

ActBlue allows people to donate to a host of Democratic organizations, candidates, and causes. Readers are likely to find organizations that are supporting the Trump indictment on this site and may wish to donate money to further that cause.


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