Could Donald Trump go to jail if he is convicted?

Trump stickers featuring Donald Trump's mug shot are displayed for sale in Los Angeles, California
Trump stickers featuring Donald Trump's mug shot are displayed for sale in Los Angeles, California - ROBYN BECK

There is plenty at stake in Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York – even though the former president seems to be repeatedly falling asleep.

Aside from his chances in November’s presidential election – a decent proportion of Republicans indicate they will not vote for Mr Trump if he is criminally convicted – the court could impose a severe penalty if he is found guilty.

Mr Trump, who is already liable for half a billion dollars following a string of civil losses, could face a further fine or even a prison sentence.

The “hush money” case is one of the four indictments that Mr Trump faces. Served consecutively, the potential sentences would mean hundreds of years in prison.

But how likely is it that Mr Trump will be convicted? Can he run a campaign or take office if he is behind bars? And will he become the first US president to serve time in prison?

New York

In the Manhattan case, Donald Trump has been charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records – allegedly to conceal hush money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels with whom he allegedly had an affair.

Prosecutors claim that the then-Republican candidate intended to “corrupt” the result of the 2016 election by suppressing a damaging story, breaching state and federal campaign finance laws.

Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s “fixer”, is said to have paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to keep the story of their alleged relationship quiet, and was later reimbursed by his boss.

Falsifying business records is normally classed as a misdemeanour in New York, but Mr Trump has controversially been charged with a Class E felony instead, which carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

John C Coffee, of Columbia Law School, predicted there was a good chance that a New York jury could find the former president guilty, noting the hefty fines imposed against him in his fraud and defamation cases.

However, he downplayed the likelihood of Mr Trump serving time in prison, noting that he is 77 years old and has never been criminally convicted.

“Although it is conceivable that a judge – particularly one that Trump has regularly insulted – would impose some jail time to underline the culpability of Trump’s conduct, the betting is no jail time, but a high fine and a sentence to probationary conditions,” Prof Coffee told The Telegraph.

There is another possibility. Juan Merchan, the judge presiding over the case, signalled he could send Mr Trump to prison if he continues breaching a gag order designed to protect witnesses, jurors and court staff.

The former president has been found in contempt of court for violating the order nine times so far.

Washington, DC

Mr Trump has also been charged with four criminal counts over the events that led to the storming of the Capitol on Jan 6 2021. Most legal commentators see it as the most serious case against the former president.

According to a 45-page indictment brought by special counsel Jack Smith, Mr Trump attempted to reverse his election loss by pressuring officials in key states to assemble “fake electors” to ignore the popular vote and pushing the justice department to open “sham” inquiries.

He has been charged with two counts of obstructing an official proceeding – which could mean up to 20 years in prison - along with conspiracy against the right to vote and defrauding the United States, which could mean up to 10 years each.

Mr Smith signalled he was seeking a “speedy trial”, but his hopes were dashed when it was put on hold as lawyers acting for Mr Trump argued he was immune from prosecution as a former president.

The arguments were given short shrift by Tanya Chutkan, the DC district judge presiding over Mr Trump’s trial, and the appeals court.

However, it has made its way up to the Supreme Court, where three justices took issue with the ruling of the lower courts and signalled they could send it back down.

As such it threatens to delay the case beyond November’s presidential election – and if Mr Trump takes office, he could theoretically dismiss the charges against him.

Prof Coffee believes the delays to the Jan 6 trial and other cases means the New York case is “the only game in town”.

“The argument in the Supreme Court suggests that the Jan 6 case will be sent back to the lower court and thus this New York case will be the only verdict before the election,” he said.

“If Trump wins the election, he can duck the other federal trials and possibly the Georgia state case as well.”

In April, conservative justices on the Supreme Court appeared sceptical with the use of the obstruction charge in an appeal brought by a Jan 6 rioter.

Some seemed inclined to agree that the law, brought in after the Enron accounting scandal, was being applied too broadly in relation to Congress’s certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.

Not only could its decision mean hundreds of appeals by rioters, but it accounts for half of the charges brought against Mr Trump in the Jan 6 case. Some commentators believe it will put a further obstacle in the way of the proceedings.


Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney who brought the Georgia case against Mr Trump, has made no secret of her hope to see the Republican behind bars.

“We have a long road ahead,” she wrote in an email to defence lawyers in November 2023. “Long after these folks are in jail, we will still be practising law.”

The road ahead would be longer than she realised.

Mr Trump has been charged with 13 racketeering counts related to an alleged bid to overturn the result of the 2020 election in Georgia under the Rico (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations) Act.

The law was designed to dismantle America’s Mob families, and ironically was used to great effect by one of Mr Trump’s co-defendants, Rudy Giuliani, against New York’s five Mob families in the 1980s.

In a leaked call with Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Mr Trump appeared to plead with him to “find” thousands of votes that would allow him to win the crucial state. If convicted, he faces 20 years in prison.

Ms Willis had proposed that the trial start by August 5, anticipating it would take “many months” to reach a verdict.

However, the case has been hit by one issue after another, leaving proceedings in limbo and the date looking increasingly uncertain.

The key issue concerns a relationship between Ms Willis and Nathan Wade, whom she tasked with leading the prosecution of the former president.

Mr Trump and other defendants argued that she had paid him handsomely for taking on the case, before benefitting personally when he paid for them to take luxury holidays. Ms Willis denied improper behaviour and claimed to have paid Mr Wade back.

Judge Scott McAfee eventually ruled that Ms Willis could continue the prosecution – but only if her former partner withdrew from the team. The case is on hold as the Georgia Court of Appeals considers whether to hear Mr Trump’s appeal against the decision.

Three of the initial charges against Mr Trump have also been dismissed by Judge McAfee, saying they provided insufficient detail for students to defend themselves.

Even if the presumptive Republican presidential candidate takes office, he could not dismiss the trial because it is a state case.

Some believe, however, that he could order the Justice Department to challenge his sentence. Department opinions have concluded that a sitting president could not be imprisoned.

Steve Sadow, acting for Mr Trump, has argued in court that a potential trial would have to be delayed until 2029 if his client wins the presidential election, citing the Constitution’s federal supremacy clause.


The stakes are high for Mr Trump in Florida. He faces 40 felony charges on mishandling classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort, which have a maximum sentence of between five and 20 years each.

However, that may not matter if Donald Trump can make it to the presidential election in November before a trial can be held. If he takes office again, he would be able to throw it out because it is a federal case.

The indictment accused Mr Trump of removing state secrets from the White House and storing them haphazardly around his Florida resort.

Some of the documents were said to have been stacked in a ballroom and even a shower, and contain information about nuclear programmes, as well as the defence capabilities of the US and its allies.

Special counsel Jack Smith appears to be frustrated with the pace that the Florida case is moving, and has implored Judge Aileen Cannon to expedite it.

He has accused Mr Trump’s legal team of trying to use the Stormy Daniels trial in New York to delay the classified documents case as much as possible.

The trial was originally set to begin on May 20, but this has become steadily unlikely as the weeks have crept on. Judge Cannon heard arguments about setting a trial date in March – but is yet to clarify when it will be.

Prosecutors have suggested starting it on July 8 instead, while Mr Trump’s lawyers say it should begin after the November election. They have also raised August as a possibility, however.

Commentators are now questioning if, let alone when, the case will reach trial.