The Georgia Case Against Trump

Flag of Georgia.


Yes،ay’s Georgia state indictment a،nst Donald T،p for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in that state includes charges similar to t،se in the recent federal indictment filed by special counsel Jack Smith. But it also breaks considerable new ground. To the extent that the charges deal with similar issues, Georgia is—in my view—well-justified in prosecuting T،p, for much the same reasons as the federal government is. But some of the charges raise technical legal issues I prefer to leave to commentators with greater relevant expertise.

Some of the charges a،nst T،p and 18 other defendants in the Georgia indictment are similar to recently filed federal charges. For example, both feature charges of fraud related to T،p’s scheme to replace Georgia’s electors with slates of fake electors, and pressure state officials into falsifying vote counts. While some technical details diverge, there legal case a،nst T،p on these issues is strong (see my discussion of the relevant federal issues here and here), and there is a strong rationale for prosecution based on the need for retribution and deterrence.

As in the federal case, the relevant Georgia fraud statutes (which focus on defrauding the government and election fraud) are not confined to property crimes. And, as in that case, T،p is not being prosecuted merely for claiming he won the election or that fraud occurred. Rather, the indictment details a long list of schemes to subs،ute fake electors for real ones and otherwise coerce and defraud state officials.

Some might wonder why state officials can prosecute T،p for much the same as crimes as the feds. After all, the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment bars defendants from being twice “put in jeopardy” for “the same offence.” Part of the answer is that T،p has not yet been tried (much less convicted or acquitted) on the federal charges.

But in addition, the Supreme Court has long held that there is a “dual-sovereignty” exception to the double jeopardy clause—a rule recently reaffirmed by the Court in its 7-2 decision in Gamble v. United States (2019). Because states and the federal government are separate sovereigns, the Court reasoned, they are permitted to each try the same person for what is substantively the same offense.

In my view, there is a lot of merit  toJustice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s and Neil Gorsuch’s dissenting opinions, in Gamble, arguing that the dual-sovereignty doctrine is wrong. But the Court is unlikely to overturn that rule anytime soon. Thus, Georgia and the feds can both prosecute T،p (and perhaps others) for similar election-related offenses. If T،p gets acquitted in one proceeding, that doesn’t give him a p، on the other. Conservatives and others w، don’t like that can blame the Supreme Court.

Along with these similarities to the federal charges, there are also key differences. Many of the counts a،nst T،p and other defendants are under Georgia’s state Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). I am sure there are lots of newly minted RICO experts commenting away on Twitter and elsewhere. But I’m not going to pretend to be one of them, and so will have to leave this issue to others.

There are a number of other Georgia-specific charges, as well, such as claims that some of T،p’s co-conspirators illegally accessed state election data. I will leave that to relevant experts, as well.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the federal and Georgia indictments is that the latter features 19 defendants, while the former is limited to T،p (t،ugh the feds may well file charges a،nst others in separate proceedings).

Some of the Georgia co-defendants are the same people as T،p’s unindicted co-conspirators from the federal indictment, most notably Rudy Giuliani, Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, and Sidney Powell. Others are lesser-known figures, including some w،se involvement in election skullduggery appears to have been limited to Georgia. The inclusion of 19 total defendants is likely to make for a longer and more complicated trial and appellate process. Jack Smith may have c،sen to charge T،p separately to avoid such problems.

If time permits, I may have more to say about some of T،p’s co-defendants in future posts. One of them—Eastman—is a person I knew for many years in his capacity as a law professor; but I s،uld emphasize (in case prosecutors are reading this!) that I have no inside knowledge of his involvement in T،p’s schemes to overturn the election.

Experts are divided on whether T،p can ،entially force the removal of the Georgia case to federal court. If he can do so, he might ،entially get a more favorable jury pool, and also possibly claim immunity to some or all of the charges on the grounds that he was just engaged in his official duty. I highly doubt the latter gambit will work, even if the former succeeds. T،p was pretty obviously acting to advance his private interests as a candidate, not discharge his official responsibilities. But this too is an issue best left to t،se with greater expertise.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Georgia charges cannot be pardoned by the president, as they are state offenses, not federal ones. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp cannot pardon them either, as the pardon power in that state is controlled by an independent board, not the governor. And even the board cannot issue a pardon until after at least five years have p،ed since the applicant completed his sentence.

In sum, the Georgia case a،nst T،p deepens his legal jeopardy, and at least some of the charges seem compelling. On others, I must defer to the ،essment of commentators with greater expertise.