Divided nation poses challenges for a fair trial in Trump case

"We are in, as a country, uncharted waters," said USF Politics Professor Josh Scacco.
Why prosecutors are choosing South Florida to try Donald Trump
Posted at 4:15 PM, Jun 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-14 17:39:43-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After Tuesday’s history-making federal arrest and arraignment of a former president, the slow burn of Donald Trump’s legal battle begins. With red-hot rhetoric and deeply held opinions on both sides of the indictment — can he now get a fair trial?

“Look, anybody can get a fair trial in this country,” said Richard Serafini, a former federal prosecutor.

Serafini thinks Trump will be no different. The legal expert told us recently that America has a long history of fairly trying controversial figures; assassins, terrorists, spies, and plenty of politicians.

"To suggest that Donald Trump can't get a fair trial in the United States, or, conversely, that the Department of Justice can't get a fair trial in the United States, is to suggest that politics trumps everything," said Serafini. "No pun intended."

Yet concerns remain, given just how closely tied politics are to the case. The judge selected to oversee the criminal proceedings is a Trump appointee, Aileen Cannon. She has sided with him in previous controversial rulings, prompting some to call for recusal.

The other issue could be the seating of an impartial jury, as unanimity is needed for conviction. While attorneys have a process for weeding out bias called voir dire, Trump is a polarizing figure who, in 2020, lost the two counties potentially getting tapped for the jury pool, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.

Then there's the fiery rhetoric we've heard from Trump allies and Trump himself. Many allege the indictment is pure politics.

"Today we witness the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country," Trump said while speaking in New Jersey on Tuesday evening. "A very sad thing to watch. A corrupt sitting president had his top political opponent arrested on fake and fabricated charges..."

Political communication experts warn this kind of talk is dangerous if unfounded. USF Professor Josh Scacco believes it'll test the strength of the American justice system.

"We are in, as a country, uncharted waters," said Scacco. "It's actually really important for our political leaders, all of them, to exercise responsibility at this moment."

It's hard to say for sure what the next steps will be in this criminal trial. Trump will likely want to solidify his legal team first. We also know his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, will have his arraignment on June 27.