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Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts

He’s now been arraigned and released.

Trump sits in a courtroom flanked by attorneys.
Former President Donald Trump sat in court for his arraignment on Tuesday.
Seth Wenig/AP Photo
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Former President Donald Trump officially surrendered himself to authorities on Tuesday after being indicted last week by a grand jury on multiple counts. He was taken into custody around 1:24 pm local time, then was arraigned in a lower Manhattan courtroom and pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts tied to falsifying business records.

Trump was released and left law enforcement custody around 3:30 pm local time. He is expected to travel back to his home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, where he’ll deliver remarks on Tuesday evening.

Trump’s arrest and arraignment are unprecedented in US history. He’s the first former president to be the subject of a criminal case, and he could still face charges in other cases playing out federally and at the state level. The charges in this case have just been unsealed, and address Trump’s alleged involvement in hush money payments made to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Trump’s arraignment marks a key step: It was effectively a court hearing during which the charges were read aloud to him, and he was able to enter his plea. “Seems so SURREAL,” Trump wrote in a Truth Social post ahead of his surrendering. “WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America.”

Trump is poised to contest these charges, which could set up a long trial moving forward.

What is an indictment, anyway?

Trump’s arrest and arraignment follow the announcement of his indictment last week.

Basically, an indictment means a person is formally being charged with a felony by a grand jury, a step that’s required for such cases in the state. As laid out by the New York State Constitution, Trump had to be indicted by a grand jury — which gives members of the community a say — before prosecutors could proceed further. This differs from misdemeanor cases when a prosecutor can just bring the charges without a grand jury having to file them via an indictment, adding one more step. After Trump was indicted, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was then able to pursue his surrender and a subsequent trial.

“When a person is indicted, they are given formal notice that it is believed that they committed a crime,” notes the Justice Department. “The indictment contains the basic information that informs the person of the charges against them.”

Many felony cases can’t move forward without an indictment. First, a prosecutor decides to pursue a case against a person and presents witnesses and evidence in front of what’s known as a grand jury. The grand jury — a randomly selected group of 16 to 23 people — will weigh the information and then decide whether they believe there is probable cause that this person committed a crime and if there should be a trial. Grand juries are used in felony cases and are intended to give the courts and broader citizenry a voice in how crimes are treated versus allowing prosecutors to move forward with charges unilaterally.

If at least 12 jurors believe there is probable cause and vote to indict, then the person is officially charged and the case has the potential to go to trial. The grand jury does not determine if a person is guilty or not guilty like a trial jury does, however.

In Trump’s case, enough members of the Manhattan grand jury concluded that there is sufficient evidence to charge him with a crime. The indictment includes specific information about the charges and explains what laws the jurors believe Trump broke. At this point, courts have not ruled on whether he is guilty or not; the grand jury has simply determined that he should be charged and that the case can go to trial. Following an indictment, a prosecutor can decide whether to pursue these charges or to drop them if there’s insufficient evidence. That the process appears to be going forward signals Bragg believes in the grand jury’s findings.

The trial process for the case could ultimately be a drawn-out one since Trump is expected to challenge the charges. If convicted, he could be sentenced to as much as four years in prison, the penalty for falsifying business records. Trump is still able to run for president despite the indictment, and would continue to be able to do so even if he were convicted and had to serve jail time.

Update, April 4, 3:45 pm ET: This story, originally published on March 31, has been updated multiple times, most recently with new information about Trump’s arraignment and plea.