Donald Trump is now a convicted felon. What happens next?

Businessman. Reality-TV star. President. Convicted felon. The improbable life story of Donald Trump has an ignominious new chapter, courtesy of a New York court verdict.

A sentence, an appeal and, for Americans, a plunge into the political unknown

Trial was 'rigged,' Trump says

2 months ago
Duration 1:46
Former U.S. president Donald Trump remained defiant after being found guilty on all 34 counts in his hush-money trial in New York, saying the trial was 'rigged' and a 'disgrace'

Businessman. Reality-TV star. President. Convicted felon. The improbable life story of Donald Trump has an ignominious new chapter, courtesy of a New York court verdict.

Trump was found guilty on state charges of falsifying business records, in concealing payments to a porn star during the 2016 election to keep her from talking publicly about their past affair. 

In the span of just a few minutes on Thursday, the foreman of a Manhattan jury read out the unanimous verdict to count, after count, after count that will thrust the country into unknown political territory.

"Guilty," said the middle-aged man, wearing a casual blue sweater. "Guilty. ... Guilty. ... Guilty," he said, repeating himself 34 times for each of the counts.

Some in the courtroom gasped as the judge had announced there was a verdict. He'd been planning to send the jury home at the end of the day, when the foreman sent a note heralding a decision.  

WATCH | Trump found guilty on all 34 counts: 

Donald Trump guilty on all 34 felony counts in hush-money trial

2 months ago
Duration 12:19
Donald Trump has been found guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to hush-money payments to two women ahead of the 2016 election, becoming the first former U.S. president to be convicted of a crime.

At 5:03 p.m. local time, the jurors re-entered the room. Not a single one of them appeared to stare at Trump as they walked right past him toward the jury box. By 5:07 p.m., they'd convicted him.

Minutes later, they filed right past him again, none making any visible eye contact as they exited.

Trump sat impassive during the verdict, with the parties having just been warned by the judge not to react as the decision was announced.

PHOTOS | Trump's verdict sheet:

Trump later gave his son Eric a prolonged, vigorous handshake as they left the courtroom minutes later, exiting this scene into that new, uncharted territory.

The first man ever to serve as U.S. president and be convicted of a crime has been ordered to come back to receive his sentence on July 11. 

This is just days before the Republican convention where Trump is scheduled to be officially crowned the party's presidential nominee.

Trump to continue campaign

To be clear, Trump remains free to keep running for president; it's a race he might very well win, if current public opinion polls are accurate. 

"The real verdict is going to be November 5th by the people [on election day]," Trump said in a defiant statement. "I'm a very innocent man, and it's OK, I'm fighting for our country."

But the verdict will unleash an unpredictable succession of events that could wind on without resolution for months — potentially even for years.

First, Trump will be asked to meet with a probation officer in the coming days. That officer will be asked to write a sentencing report, including details such as whether Trump shows contrition.

A veteran New York City criminal lawyer has this unsolicited advice for Trump: admit your guilt in that meeting, or say nothing.

"Just don't deny it," said Mark Cohen, who has spent decades first as a prosecutor, then a defence lawyer. "Denying it would be a problem with the judge."

Don't count on contrition. Trump delivered an extraordinarily defiant speech Friday, in which he referred to the judge in his case as a "devil." He accused Juan Merchan of stacking the legal deck against him, in how he instructed the jury and in what evidence he chose to allow. Trump confirmed he will appeal.

Appeals could take years to sort out. 

In the meantime, Merchan will decide Trump's short-term fate.

Merchan's July 11 sentencing decision will hang like an un-detonated bomb over the coming weeks of the presidential election. 

Penalties range from fines to prison time

That's because the gamut of potential penalties for this crime is head-spinningly vast: Trump could receive anything from a verbal warning, to probation conditions, to serious prison time — potentially up to four years for each of the 34 counts.

The prevailing view is that Trump won't go to prison. As a first-time offender, convicted for the lowest category of non-violent felony, most legal observers expect a lesser penalty.

"Almost no one familiar with the New York criminal legal system expects a sentence of incarceration," said Tim Bakken, a former New York prosecutor who now teaches law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York state.

A man in a navy suit with a light blue tie appears stern as he leaves a courhouse.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the courthouse after a jury found him guilty on all 34 counts in his criminal trial in New York on Thursday. (Justin Lane/Reuters)

There's a caveat here. Trump's behaviour throughout the trial — with his frequent trashing of the judge and witnesses, and his string of contempt-of-court findings — makes a harsher penalty possible.

"Before this [trial] started, I would have thought [he'd get] probation," Cohen told CBC News.  

"[But] Trump's done his best to promote disrespect for the law. So I would think that would be something that Merchan's gotta be thinking about."

So there is the possibility that a presidential candidate might be campaigning from jail.

And there's no telling how Trump supporters might react. 

Outside the courthouse this week, Joe Palau, a construction worker from Brooklyn in a red MAGA cap, insisted a conviction would backfire politically. "If he's found guilty, more people will go to him."

Cynthia Frybarger, a Trump critic from California who was in town taking in the scene, described it as a well-deserved serving of justice to a man she described as a decades-long law-breaker.

Trump first made news headlines in the 1970s when the U.S. Justice Department sued his family business for refusing to rent apartments to Black and Latino people in violation of anti-housing-discrimination laws; the suit was settled out of court.

"I'm embarrassed by it, to be honest with you," said Frybarger, 73, a retiree who worked in the lending industry. She was standing outside the courtroom this week holding a sign that said, "Lock Him Up."

"Doesn't make me a proud American."

 Text from Biden
Both main presidential candidates sent out fundraising emails after the verdict. One thing the Biden message, here, and Trump's, had in common: both said this election will be settled at the ballot box, by voters. (CBC News)

Ultimately, Trump's fate may play out in a far larger court of public opinion, as more than 100 million Americans are expected to cast ballots in this year's presidential election.

The impact of this verdict will be scrutinized ferociously. Polls will be pored over in the coming days to determine whether this monumental event tilts the race toward President Joe Biden.

Watching the next polls

Here's all we know on that score.

In the lead-up to the trial in April, several surveys suggested a guilty verdict could damage Trump politically. They said he might lose several crucial percentage points, trigger a stampede of swing voters or lead a staggering 16 to 24 per cent of his voters to reconsider their support.

We're no longer in the world of hypothetical statistics. We're now entering a real-world scenario where there's no proof this shift will happen.

It is an untested proposition, to put it mildly, that the criminal cover-up of a two-decade-old affair will succeed in reducing Trump's support where so many other events have not. 

Two presidential impeachments, the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a sexual-abuse finding, recorded remarks about forcing himself upon women, a corporate-fraud verdict and promises to use state tools to punish his adversaries — none of these have made Trump electorally toxic. 

Man in cap
The verdict drew curious onlookers like Noah Bergin to the courthouse. The travelling musician said he won't hazard to guess how this unprecedented event might affect the 2024 election. (Alexander Panetta/CBC News)

In the meantime, the native New Yorker produced a memorable New York moment. Scores of people filled the street near the courthouse after the verdict, snapping photos outside a police barrier.

Some were Trump fans, some were detractors, some just curious onlookers. Noah Bergin, a musician in town from Indiana to play a concert, said he never believed Trump would be convicted on all 34 counts.

He described feeling relieved that nobody is above the law. As for predicting the effect it will have on the 2024 presidential race, he reacted with a touch of humility that even a seasoned pundit might emulate here.

"It's a long way 'til the election," Bergin said. 

"We'll see how it plays out."

WATCH | It took less than 2 days for the jury to reach its decision: 

Trump guilty: Key evidence behind the conviction

2 months ago
Duration 2:15
Former U.S. president Donald Trump has been found guilty in his New York hush-money trial. CBC’s Anya Zoledziowski breaks down the key evidence and witnesses that led the jury to the historic conviction.


Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.