Could Trump’s NYC conviction impact jury selection in Fulton?

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower, Friday, May 31, 2024, in New York. A day after a New York jury found Donald Trump guilty of 34 felony charges, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee addressed the conviction and likely attempt to cast his campaign in a new light. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower, Friday, May 31, 2024, in New York. A day after a New York jury found Donald Trump guilty of 34 felony charges, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee addressed the conviction and likely attempt to cast his campaign in a new light. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

Former President Donald Trump’s felony conviction in Manhattan could impact jury selection in the Fulton County election interference case when — and if — it reaches trial, according to attorneys closely tracking both cases, though some cautioned that it is too early to make predictions.

The two criminal cases are focused on wildly different sets of issues: hush-money payments made to protect the Republican’s presidential bid in 2016 and an alleged racketeering conspiracy to overturn the results of Georgia’s 2020 election. Despite that, Trump’s conviction on 34 felony charges in New York on Thursday could make it harder to find a group of 12 jurors who could be fair and impartial whenever the election interference trial is held in downtown Atlanta.

Saturated media coverage of the Manhattan trial means most would-be jurors in Fulton will at least have heard the verdict. Prosecutors and defense attorneys involved in Fulton jury selection will waste no time gauging what they know.

Denise de La Rue, a Decatur-based jury and trial consultant, said the guilty verdict is likely to reinforce many people’s already polarized beliefs about Trump.

“If you believe this is a witch hunt and people are doing anything they can to bring down this leader, then you’re going to believe that even more and that the enemy is winning,” she said. “If you believe that former President Trump is not a stand-up guy, then you’re going to take this as reinforcement.”

The jury selection process is designed to eliminate would-be jurors with glaring biases. Prospective members are asked, for example, whether they could be fair to a defendant even if their politics don’t align.

“Almost everybody has an opinion about him. The question is, can you set aside that opinion and look at just this case?” said Chris Timmons, a trial attorney who teaches a jury selection class at Georgia State University College of Law.

Still, Jerry Goldfeder director of Fordham Law School’s Voting Rights and Democracy Project, said Trump’s conviction in New York could have an “intangible” effect on jurors.

It “might have some impact, at the very least, on a subconscious level when the juries are selected,” he told reporters during a Friday webinar.

Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said there are processes in place to ensure that a jury stays neutral and fair. That could include guidance underscoring that the New York, Georgia and federal cases against Trump in Washington and Florida should be considered individually, she said.

“There will be a lot of discussion when they go to trial about what could and could not come in from (the Manhattan) case,” Wiley said during the same webinar. She added that much from the New York prosecution “would probably be deemed either not directly relevant or prejudicial to the case.”

A spokesman for Fulton County DA Fani Willis declined to comment, as did Steve Sadow, Trump’s lead Atlanta attorney.

Timing uncertainties

There is expected to be a significant delay between the New York verdict and the start of the Fulton trial.

That’s because of the pending appeal of the effort to remove Willis from the case due to an alleged conflict of interest. The matter is currently before the Georgia Court of Appeals, and justices’ eventual verdict — which might not come until early next year — is expected to itself be appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

It’s likely the Fulton trial would not begin until mid-2025 at the earliest, and it’s possible prosecutors may not be able to kick off proceedings against Trump until 2029, if the Republican wins another term and a court stops Willis from pursuing the case against him until after he’s out of office.

De la Rue noted that those dynamics make it hard to predict whether the Manhattan conviction will be high on the minds of prospective jurors. She said there are likely to be many other intervening events between now and when the Fulton case goes to trial that could make jury selection in Atlanta even more challenging.

“The conviction is one thing, but the fallout from the conviction or what follows from that can have way more impact, like whether he’s sentenced to time (in prison), whether there’s violence and protest of this,” she said. “We haven’t seen it yet, thankfully, but we don’t know. Whether he’s reelected, whether the jurors in New York are revealed and given a hard time could make people more reluctant to serve or convict here.”

“There are just so many things in play,” she added.

Timmons said prosecutors and defense attorneys involved in the Fulton case will need to be careful with how they address the Manhattan conviction with prospective jurors. It’s not uncommon for people to be unaware of news developments — including high-profile ones involving Trump — and parties would not want to “infect” would-be jurors with information that could bias them before a trial.

“You’re going to be kind of walking on eggshells, trying not to talk about the conviction unless they actually know about it,” Timmons said of prospective jurors. “Now, you get an indication that a juror does know about the conviction, then I think proper questions there are, ‘is that going to affect the way that you look at this trial?’”

Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.