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Trump’s 4 indictments, ranked by the stakes

A quick guide to Trump’s 4 indictments and why they matter.

Trump’s face in silhouette, dark against blurry background lights.
Donald Trump at the Iowa State Fair on August 12, 2023.
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s legal web has grown more tangled than ever. The former president is facing 91 criminal charges across four jurisdictions — Georgia, Florida, New York, and the District of Columbia. He has three trial dates set for 2024 so far. And all this is unfolding as he runs for the presidency again.

The cases — involving allegations of attempted election theft, mishandling classified documents, and hush money payments — have grown so sprawling that it’s tough for anyone but the most die-hard political obsessive to follow them in detail.

But in some, the stakes — for our democracy and for Trump personally — are higher than others.

The two prosecutions about Trump’s efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory (in DC and Georgia) both come with the possibility of serious criminal penalties. They also have enormous implications for the future of American elections, and for whether Trump or someone like him will respect the results next time around.

The classified documents prosecution, in Florida, is also significant in that it involves sensitive intelligence material. However, prosecutors have presented no evidence that this sensitive material leaked out from Trump’s possession. The prosecution is mainly about his efforts to defy the government’s demands that he return the documents.

Then, in the New York case, Trump is charged with falsifying business records related to hush money payments he’d made. The core violation here is, basically, that the Trump Organization logged these payments improperly as “legal expenses.” This is not the highest-stakes issue in the world.

It’s all a lot to keep track of, so in this guide, we’ll walk through the charges and potential sentences in each prosecution in more detail, and we’ve ranked the indictments in order of importance based on the stakes and potential implications of each case.

1) Federal 2020 election case (District of Columbia)

How important is this indictment? Very important. As Vox’s Nicole Narea previously explained, this case “will legally define what a politician is able to do to reverse a defeat.” It’s likely to be the first of Trump’s cases to go to trial. The outcome of this case could have major implications for the 2024 election and every race that follows: If Trump isn’t held accountable for the actions he took on January 6 and leading up to it, he and others could try to pull the same schemes in the future.

Ultimately, this case has a significant bearing on the future of US democracy.

Number of charges: Four felony counts. They include:

  • Charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States, which includes plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 election
  • Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, including plotting to prevent the 2020 election certification
  • Obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, which includes actually blocking the certification of the 2020 election results
  • Conspiracy against rights, which includes a plan to deprive someone of a constitutional right (in this case, that is the ability to vote)

Potential jail time per count (these are maximum sentences that are unlikely to be imposed):

  • Conspiracy to defraud the United States: 5 years
  • Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding: 20 years
  • Obstructing an official proceeding: 20 years
  • Conspiracy against the right to vote: 10 years

2) Georgia election indictment

How important is this indictment? Very important. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis accused Trump and several of his associates of a sprawling racketeering conspiracy related to their efforts to overturn Biden’s win in the state. In contrast to the federal election indictment, where Trump is the only one charged so far, here 18 others were also charged for participating in this alleged conspiracy. These include famous names like Rudy Giuliani and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, notorious Trump lawyers like John Eastman and Sidney Powell, and lower-level Georgia players.

Significantly, if Trump wins the presidency again in 2024, he would not be able to thwart this prosecution, since it is being carried out under state law.

Number of charges: 13 felony counts. They are:

  • 1 count of violating the Georgia RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, which is basically a catchall charge for the larger conspiracy to overturn the outcome
  • 3 counts of solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer, which are about Trump’s attempts to convince Georgia officials to overturn the results
  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer
  • 2 counts of conspiracy to commit forgery
  • 2 counts of conspiracy to commit false statements and writings
  • 1 count of conspiracy to commit filing false documents
  • 1 count of filing false documents
  • 2 counts of making false statements and writings

Most of those counts relate to the Trump campaign’s effort to put together a slate of “alternate” electors from Georgia who would purport to cast electoral votes for Trump rather than the actual winner, Biden.

Potential jail time per count (these are maximum sentences that are unlikely to be imposed):

  • Violating the Georgia RICO Act: 20 years
  • Solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer: 3 years
  • Conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer: 2.5 years
  • Conspiracy to commit forgery: 7.5 years
  • Conspiracy to commit false statements and writings: 2.5 years
  • Conspiracy to commit filing false documents: 5 years
  • Filing false documents: 10 years
  • Making false statements and writings: 5 years

3) Federal documents case (Florida)

How important is this indictment? Important. This case centers on a president’s ability to endanger the country’s national security by taking and mishandling classified documents after leaving office. Documents that Trump kept addressed everything from US nuclear programs to the country’s defense and weapons capabilities to how America could respond in the face of a possible attack. Additionally, the case looks at how Trump obstructed FBI efforts to take back the documents.

Number of charges: 40 felony counts. They include:

  • 32 counts of willful retention of national defense information, which includes keeping classified documents related to military activities and nuclear weapons
  • 1 count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, which includes Trump working with an aide to hold on to classified documents and hide them from a grand jury
  • 1 count of withholding a document or record from an official proceeding, which included efforts to hide documents from a grand jury
  • 1 count of corruptly concealing a document or record from an official proceeding, which included hiding boxes with classified documents
  • 1 count of concealing a document in a federal investigation, which included covering up Trump’s ongoing possession of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago
  • 1 count of scheming to conceal information the government is seeking, which includes hiding the fact that Trump still possessed classified documents
  • 1 count of making false statements, which includes directing his attorneys to lie about returning all the classified documents in his possession
  • 2 counts of altering, destroying, or concealing information the government is seeking, which includes plans to delete security footage

Potential jail time per count (these are maximum sentences that are unlikely to be imposed):

  • Willful retention of defense information: 10 years
  • Conspiracy to obstruct justice: 20 years
  • Withholding documents from an official proceeding: 20 years
  • Concealing documents from an official proceeding: 20 years
  • Concealing documents from federal investigators: 20 years
  • Scheme to conceal: 5 years
  • Making false statement to the US government: 5 years
  • Altering, destroying, or hiding something the government is looking for: 20 years

4) New York state case related to hush money to Stormy Daniels

How important is this indictment? Less important. This case is significant for the ways it addresses alleged wrongdoing by Trump, but it has fewer sweeping implications than the other indictments. It essentially highlights Trump’s recurring lies and falsehoods, but doesn’t really have the same broader democracy or national security stakes that the other cases have. Primarily, it centers on efforts by Trump to conceal hush money that was paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels so she wouldn’t go public about their affair.

Number of charges: 34 felony counts. All counts are centered on falsifying business records, which Trump is accused of doing to cover up the hush money payments to Daniels.

Potential jail time per count (these are maximum sentences that are unlikely to be imposed):

  • Falsifying business records: 4 years

All of this leads to two big questions: Will these indictments derail Trump’s presidential bid? And do they mean Trump’s going to jail?

What do the four indictments mean for Trump’s chances of becoming president again?

Amid all this, Trump is running for president again and facing several challengers in the Republican primary. He retains a massive poll lead. These multiple indictments haven’t hurt him just yet; if anything, they’ve helped, as GOP voters have rallied around him.

Currently, Trump’s DC trial is scheduled for March 4, 2024, his New York trial is scheduled for March 25, 2024, and his Florida trial is scheduled for May 20, 2024. The Iowa caucuses are on January 15, 2024, while Nevada and South Carolina’s contests come in February. Super Tuesday is on March 5. Unless one of his challengers surges before March, Trump could have the nomination mostly wrapped up before any of the trials begin.

Even if Trump’s found guilty, or even if he’s jailed, he technically wouldn’t be disqualified from taking office. If he wins the GOP nomination, he’ll still be on the ballot in the general election. So only the voters can stop Trump from becoming president again.

Will Trump go to prison? How long could his sentence be?

The technical “maximum sentence” Trump could face if convicted of everything he’s been charged with is absurdly high — hundreds of years — but in practice, such high sentences are almost never given. Yet — though we’re a long way off from Trump actually being behind bars — he really is in danger of getting serious time.

His eventual sentence, if he is convicted, will depend on several factors in each jurisdiction, none more important than whether the juries will even convict him. The strength of each case and the politics of each area could well influence this — given political polarization, winning a conviction may well be easier in DC and New York than in the mostly conservative area of Florida where he will be tried. (Recall it only takes one holdout juror to block a conviction.)

Then, if he is convicted, what sentence will the judge hand down? Judges have broad discretion to hand down a sentence they feel is appropriate. Judge Tanya Chutkan of DC will hear the federal case against Trump for trying to steal the 2020 election, and she has been the toughest sentencer for January 6 rioters, suggesting she may lean more toward the maximum if given the chance. Meanwhile, Judge Aileen Cannon of Florida has the documents case, and she is a Trump appointee who has already arguably stretched the law to try and help him out; a conviction in her courtroom could be on the lighter side.

Once he’s sentenced, will higher court judges rescue him on appeal? Some of the cases against him use novel legal reasoning that hasn’t been tested before. So far, the Florida case appears the clearest and best grounded in precedent, while the election cases are more novel (no president has tried to do what Trump did before, after all) and the New York hush money case has been somewhat legally controversial. If Trump is convicted, then, his eventual fate may end up in the Supreme Court.

Finally, any Trump sentence could be scuttled if he wins the presidency. If Trump is back in power, he would likely use executive power to end the federal prosecutions against him (the DC and Florida ones), and perhaps even pardon himself. He could not end the state prosecutions — the Georgia and New York ones — but if he wins the presidency, he could likely put off serving prison time until after his term concludes. So, again, it’s the voters who ultimately have the power to maximize, or minimize, Trump’s chances of going to prison.

Update, August 28, 1 pm ET: This story was originally published on August 15 and has been updated to include sentencing information for the Georgia indictment and Trump’s trial date in the DC case.

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