The Big Decision Before the Trump Verdict

The Wall Street Journal

  • Published On: May 19, 2024

The dramatic conclusion of Donald Trump’s New York trial is quickly approaching, with lawyers tentatively set to make their final summations Tuesday. But how this story ends may depend in large part on a much drier legal affair that will likely occur the day prior—the charge conference. That meeting between the two legal teams and Judge Juan Merchan will decide a key question: Will the jury consider only 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree or also consider 34 misdemeanor counts of falsifying business records in the second degree?

The misdemeanor charges are what are known in legal parlance as a lesser included offense, or LIO. An LIO is a less serious crime that carries lower penalties and is included within the definition of a more serious crime of which a defendant is accused. In Mr. Trump’s trial, the misdemeanor charges require proof that he deliberately falsified business records, while the felony charges in addition require that he did so with the intent to conceal another crime. The trial judge must submit the LIO to the jury if either prosecution or defense requests it. If neither asks for it, the judge may do so at his discretion.


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