Preventing Trump from running for office again is bad for democracy

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The unprecedented arrest and impeachment of an ex-president has left many wondering whether someone accused or convicted of a crime should be allowed to run for president.

In fact, less than four months have passed since Democrats introduced legislation (which never left the House) to prevent Donald Trump from holding federal office again, citing the 14th Amendment ban on incumbents. charges who have already “engaged in the insurrection” during their service. in the office. And that was all Before the Manhattan indictment.

While there is nothing in the Constitution that would prevent Trump from running on these current criminal charges, some might now be tempted to argue that there should be. After all, people convicted of crimes are currently not allowed to vote in the vast majority of states. Barring people with felony convictions from participating in the democratic process as candidates might not seem like a big step forward.

Given the extensive damage inflicted on our legal and immigration systems as a direct result of his policies – not to mention his own well-documented militarization of the legal system – this may seem like a fair or logical step to help ensure that nothing like reproduces itself. .

But as a career public defender and a strong advocate for criminal justice reform, I believe it is important to recall any so-called ‘progressives’ or Democratic candidates who might find themselves salivating at the thought of stopping Trump from running for office again that this particular remedy would actually be a bad thing for democracy.

The right to decide for themselves what qualities or aspects of a candidate’s biography and experience should or should not be considered disqualifying is one of the most important rights guaranteed to voters by the Constitution.

Further, because our criminal justice system disproportionately deprives, criminalizes and stigmatizes people of color and the poor and vulnerable, no one with a genuine commitment to making our society fairer and more just should to want to prohibit people who have been personally affected by this system from holding public office. Their perspectives and experiences are essential to creating a better system.

Whatever the merits of an individual criminal case, the system as a whole is deeply flawed.

Eliza Orlins

There is also the reality that, for the vast majority of people charged with crimes in this country, a jury trial is simply not a feasible option. Our current system for entering a plea of ​​guilty or not guilty is very coercive. Faced with the choice between pleading guilty and serving a relatively short sentence or taking a case to court and running the risk of having to serve a long prison sentence, many people have no choice but to plead.

This brings me to another point that I think Democrats would do well to consider in this election season and beyond.

Whatever the merits of an individual criminal case, the system as a whole is deeply flawed. It is irresponsible to celebrate these accusations against the former president without acknowledging him.

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The reality is that while Donald Trump walks into it from a position of undeniable privilege, the deck of the criminal justice system is fundamentally stacked against people who have been charged with crimes. As a public defender, I always say that I see things every day in criminal court that I sincerely believe would shock the average person – things that just don’t align with what we’re taught about our system. legal, not to mention how it’s portrayed in movies and on TV.

Even high-profile civil cases that are televised can contribute to misconceptions about the criminal justice system, where the discovery process and restrictions on what evidence can and cannot be presented at trial are very different from the civil system.

The nuance here is important. Yes, I have never, in my 13 years as a public defender representing people in the same court, had a client given so much time before having to return for their next in-person appearance. Most of my clients are required to return to court again and again before their trial, forcing them to deal with challenges such as missing work or losing their jobs, losing the income they depend on to support their families, and having to make impossible arrangements for childcare and elderly parents.


Former US President Donald Trump delivers remarks the day of his New York court appearance after being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury following an investigation into hidden money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels, in Palm Beach, Florida, United States, on April 4, 2023.

REUTERS/Marco Bello

At the same time, the security and logistical challenges surrounding any in-person court appearance for the former president are considerable – and each time he does appear, hearings in other cases and court proceedings will inevitably be delayed. or postponed, which will lead to people like me clients having to spend more time in jail or having to wait even longer for their case to be resolved.

I hope we can all agree that while the need for careful attention to detail in such a scrutinized case is important, it is also true that the current process – which decides the fate of human beings whose lives and freedom are at stake – is woefully insufficient. Both things can be true at the same time.

It is possible to understand that a person whose seemingly blatant disregard for the law has caused so much harm to so many ultimately faces some responsibility for his actions while acknowledging that at various points in this process, when Trump or its lawyers claim that certain aspects of this system are unfair, they will be right.

And it’s also important to remember that while someone rich and powerful may finally be held accountable in this particular case, that’s still the exception, not the rule.

Rather than being held up as proof that “no one is above the law”, this case should serve as a reminder that real change in this system is long overdue.

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