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Friday, December 1, 2023
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An indictment isn’t a conviction

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

In the coming days, you’re going to see a lot of kvetching and crowing on social media – depending on which side of the political spectrum your friends fall. You’re probably seeing it already.

I’m speaking, of course, of the indictment last week and yesterday’s arraignment (tomorrow’s planned arraignment as I pen this) of former President Donald Trump and the ensuing media frenzy and associated internet hullaballoo that’s as sure to follow.

Everyone will suddenly be a constitutional scholar or specialist in campaign finance law.

Most of them won’t know their knee-cap from a knot on a log.

But before you get bent out of shape, one way or the other, there are a few things to remember – mainly that an indictment isn’t a conviction.

An indictment is an accusation. It’s an indication that a grand jury has heard the accusation, and found there was enough evidence to take the person to court to try them for the charge they are accused of. But it doesn’t mean the evidence is proof they’ve committed the crime yet. It just means the evidence is sufficient to look into it.

The next step is an arraignment, which sometimes involves an arrest if the person is deemed a potential flight risk – an unlikely scenario with someone as high profile as the former president.

The arraignment is the first time a person accused of a crime appears before a judge to hear those charges and be advised of their rights.

It’s also when a defendant who plans to contest the charges against them enters a plea of not guilty, as the former president is likely to do.

There is still a trial ahead of this, where all the evidence against the former president will be presented, and in the end a jury will get to decide if the evidence is enough to convict him.

No matter how you feel about the former president’s character or the charges against him, the allegations have been made – and made loudly and publicly – and because of that they had to be investigated. This could not be ignored simply because of the former president’s status and position.

That’s not how the law works in America. Or at least it’s not supposed to be. We all know that, in theory, no one is supposed to be above the law. We also often hear people complain that this isn’t the case; that the rich and the famous get to live by a different set of rules, and aren’t held to the same standard.

It’s one of the very things that former president Trump campaigned on himself – noting that it often seemed like one set of rules governed the swamp in D.C. while the average American had to adhere to a very different set of rules and regulations.

It’s why he needs to go through the process as well. This should be an area where supporters and opponents of the former president’s policies agree. He needs to go through the process. The evidence needs to be presented. The trial needs to be open and transparent. Then he needs to be exonerated, or – if the evidence holds – convicted.

If he’s convicted, he has the right to appeal, just like any other defendant. But we can’t set Mr. Trump up as somehow above the legal process. Draining a swamp doesn’t help if you’re just letting the space fill up with new water to stagnate all over again.

We need to let the process play out and, if there is no evidence of illegal activity (the morality of cheating on your spouse aside), the former President shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

If it turns out this is politically motivated instead of based on real evidence, it could be a mistake that hurts the Democrats terribly in the next general election. An exoneration could translate into real political capital for Mr. Trump going into the next election. But we’ll just have to wait and see. The process has to play out now, but the outcome is not a foregone conclusion.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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