Trump Trial Enters Final Phase; Judge Merchan to Issue Jury Instructions

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 18: Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom durin
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The trial of former President Donald Trump will enter its final phase on Monday, as the prosecution’s beleaguered “star witness” Michael Cohen is prepared to take the stand for the last time.

Trump’s defense banged up Cohen’s credibility last week, calling into question if the former fixer spoke to Trump the night of October 26, 2017, as he had claimed.

Cohen had claimed that during that call, Trump had approved a hush-money deal to Stormy Daniels, but Trump lawyer Todd Blanche delivered evidence that Cohen had talked to Trump’s bodyguard that night about a 14-year-old prank caller.

Michael Cohen, former attorney to Donald Trump, leaves the District Attorney’s office in New York, March 13, 2023. Cohen is prosecutors’ most central witness in former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial. But Trump’s fixer-turned-foe is also as challenging a star witness as they come. The now-disbarred lawyer has a tortured history with Trump (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File).

After the defense wraps up its cross examination of Cohen on Monday, the prosecution and the defense have an opportunity to question Cohen again, but the prosecution is expected to rest, according to the New York Times. The defense could call more witnesses to the stand or put Trump on the stand, although that is not expected, and the defense could rest as early as this week. Closing arguments could be delivered as soon as Tuesday.

Another pivotal moment in the trial could come when Judge Juan Merchan issues instructions to the jury on how to consider the charges — which could support the prosecution.

Both sides will supply proposed instructions, but Merchan will determine the exact wording of the instructions. Merchan could adopt suggestions, use a standardized version, or write them himself. Those instructions will be “a critical part of the jury’s effort to understand the logic of the prosecution’s case,” according to the Washington Post.

Judge Juan Merchan poses for a picture in his chambers in New York, Thursday, March 14, 2024. Merchan could become the first judge ever to oversee a former U.S. president’s criminal trial. He's presiding over Donald Trump’s hush money case in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Judge Juan Merchan poses for a picture in his chambers in New York, Thursday, March 14, 2024 (AP Photo/Seth Wenig).

Renato Mariotti, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor in Chicago, told the Post, “Jury instructions do have an outsized impact on a trial.”

Trials are won and lost in the word of specific jury instructions,” he said.

Marc F. Scholl, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, told the Times, “The judge’s instructions provide a road map to the jurors.”

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