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The Florida Case against Trump Is Not a Slam Dunk

The federal case against Donald Trump is ironclad. He took secret defense documents belonging to the U.S. government to an insecure location and when asked to return them, hid them and lied about it. Repeatedly. Then when the FBI got a judge to issue a search warrant, the FBI found 300 documents Trump denied having. Open-and-shut case, no?

Maybe not. What matters is not whether Trump committed 37 crimes. What matters is what a Florida jury wants to do about it. There is a bit of history about Florida trials that might be relevant here. Last month, a Florida federal jury acquitted former Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum of lying to the FBI and deadlocked on other charges, despite plenty of evidence. Eventually, the feds gave up on nailing Gillum.

Florida criminal defense attorney Rob Mandell said: "When you're talking about elected officials in Florida, your jury pool is made up of the people who voted for those people." Then he added: "We're a red state and you're getting red jurors. And they can't see past red." That doesn't mean the feds always lose in Florida. Joel Greenberg, the former buddy of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), was sentenced to 11 years behind bars for a whole list of crimes, including sex trafficking a minor. But Greenberg was a small fish and even Republican jurors don't like people guilty of sex trafficking minors. In fact, Republican jurors especially don't like people guilty of sex trafficking minors.

Here are some examples of medium-sized fish who got away. Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina (R) and his wife were accused of not paying taxes on $2 million in income. Despite evidence of the crime, they were acquitted. Three months later, former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi (R) was tried for accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for helping the bribers (undercover federal agents) get federal grants. Not only was Pizzi acquitted, but the judge said that Miami Lakes had to pay Pizzi's legal fees of $3.5 million. An earlier Hialeah mayor, Raúl L. Martínez (D), was indicted for conspiracy. He was acquitted. The jury also deadlocked on five racketeering charges.

A somewhat different case is that of former representative Corrine Brown (making her second appearance in today's posting). She served in the U.S. House from 1993 to 2017. Then she served in the big house. An appeals court ruled that she was entitled to a new trial because the judge made a mistake and incorrectly removed one juror. The DoJ dropped all charges but one, and she pleaded guilty to that one charge.

Finally, in state court, former Hialeah Gardens Mayor Gilda Oliveros (R) was convicted of plotting to murder her husband and also forcing city workers to change their address so they could vote for her. An appeals court overturned the murder-for-hire charge due to inadmissible evidence being admitted. The other charge conviction was not overturned.

We do not know exactly what is going on in Hialeah, and what it is that makes so many mayors there turn to the dark side. We do know that Hialeah mayors do not have the kind of rabid supporters that Donald Trump has and yet, despite solid evidence against them, juries refused to convict them. In the case of Donald Trump, everything depends on how well the voir dire process works and whether any Trump-or-bust people secretly make it onto the jury. Here, a lot depends on the judge and what kinds of questions the judge allows. Also, what matters is whether the questions are given to the potential jurors in writing and they respond in writing or whether they have to answer live in front of the lawyers. Experienced lawyers can tell a lot about a potential juror just by looking at him or her and seeing how that person reacts to questions. That information is missing in a written voir dire.

All of this said, it is also worth noting that 23 randomly chosen residents of South Florida on the grand jury, undoubtedly including a least a few Trump supporters, charged him with 37 felonies. So maybe when the evidence is overwhelming, even Trump supporters will turn on him. (V)

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