Here’s what probation interviews ask guilty defendants like Trump

Ahead of his July 11 sentencing, Donald Trump faces an aspect of the system that other guilty criminal defendants have to go through as well. NBC News reported Trump’s probation interview will take place Monday, though he has received the benefit of doing it remotely from Mar-a-Lago (incidentally, also the alleged crime scene of his classified documents case). 

It’s unclear what other conveniences this defendant might be afforded regarding the interview. But here’s a brief explainer of what this process is generally for. 

New York’s criminal procedure law requires that: “In any case where a person is convicted of a felony, the court must order a pre-sentence investigation of the defendant and it may not pronounce sentence until it has received a written report of such investigation.” Trump was found guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. 

Just because it’s referred to as a probation interview doesn’t mean that Trump is getting probation. Judge Juan Merchan has several options in front of him, including, among others, probation and imprisonment for up to four years. Incarceration isn’t mandatory. But it’s the probation department that conducts the pre-sentence interview and report for Merchan that may inform the judge’s sentence.

During these interviews, defendants are asked a range of questions about both the case itself and their personal lives, such as their finances, employment and criminal history, although this is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s first criminal conviction. (Whether it’s his last will depend partly on whether he wins the White House again in November and gets rid of his two federal cases, while his fourth case, in Georgia state court, which U.S. presidents can’t dismiss or pardon, is currently tied up on a pre-trial appeal.) 

“The pre-sentence report is a chance for the defendant’s lawyer to say good things about the defendant, like that the defendant is in a counseling program or has a steady job and takes care of an ailing family member,” according to the state website. With defense lawyer Todd Blanche by his side (which Merchan gave permission for Friday), we can be sure that the lawyer will say good things about his client, though perhaps he’ll cite different examples. 

“The pre-sentence interview is a chance for the defendant to try to make a good impression and explain why he or she deserves a lighter punishment,” the site goes on to say. On that note, Blanche may seek to play down any substantive remarks Trump tries to make about the case, given that his statements throughout the trial earned him a whopping 10 gag order violations. Yet, Trump seemingly steered the defense strategy at the trial that quickly ended with unanimous guilty findings on all counts, so it’s unclear how much power Trump gives his attorney here, however much it would benefit him to do so.

Ultimately, Trump may do himself more harm than good with his comments. At any rate, the report’s recommendation to Merchan probably won’t make or break the judge’s sentencing call, and the prosecution and defense are also set to weigh in. But this mandated process brings the historic matter a step closer to the judge’s crucial decision.

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