How a Trump arrest would play out: Yes, he'll be fingerprinted. No, he probably won't be handcuffed.

·9 min read
Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump.Insider
  • Now indicted, Donald Trump will be treated like any defendant — but with key exceptions.

  • He'll be fingerprinted, swabbed for the state DNA database, and photographed for a mugshot.

  • But he probably won't be "perp walked" before the cameras, and handcuffs are also unlikely.

A New York grand jury has voted to indict former President Donald Trump — but don't count on seeing him in handcuffs when he is arraigned on Tuesday.

Don't expect a dramatic, flash-bulb-dappled perp walk, either.

But yes, there will be a mugshot, and fingerprinting, and a mandatory DNA cheek-swabbing. There will be an appearance before a judge, and a not-guilty plea — likely in open court.

He'll be treated largely like any defendant — with some key exceptions.

Here are predictions for how his arrest and arraignment will play out, courtesy of some of Manhattan's top defense lawyers, former high-ranking prosecutors, and a retired Secret Service special agent.

At what precise millisecond is Trump, officially, a perp?

Here's how it plays out in state court in New York.

Trump became a perp the instant the grand jury's foreperson signed his indictment, a document listing the charges the former president — plus any codefendants — is facing.

This happened immediately after the grand jury voted to indict in the late afternoon on Thursday.

The grand jury foreperson then signed a printout version of the indictment. That printout was then "walked" over to the clerk's office by a small group of court and DA staff, who carried it from the lower Manhattan building where the grand jury met to the central clerk's office in an adjacent building.

"That's called 'walking it through,'" explained Diana Florence, a former white-collar-crime prosecutor for the Manhattan district attorney's office.

There in the clerk's office, on the 10th floor of the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse, the indictment was "filed," meaning stamped by a clerk with it's newly-minted indictment number — Trump's is indictment number 71543 of 2023 — and stored away, under seal, in large off-red cardboard folder, its "jacket."

It was at that crucial moment that Trump became the first former US president to face criminal charges.

So what'll it say?

The consensus among experts, Trump's defense team, and a trail of breadcrumbs left for hungry reporters by the star witness Michael Cohen, is this: The indictment will most likely list more than one count of falsifying business documents.

Those low-level felony charges would probably relate to the 2016 election-eve hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. They carry a potential maximum sentence of four years in prison. But a judge could also set a sentence of as little as zero jail plus probation, which defense lawyers and former prosecutors say is the most likely sentence.

Can we see it? Can we? Please?

Not so fast.

The indictment starts out as a sealed document.

In these early hours and days, only the grand jurors, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and a select few prosecutors who actually worked the case will know what's inside this yawning indictment jacket.

Bragg had to get a judge's permission on Thursday night before he could even announce that an indictment had just been filed.

There could always be a leak of the indictment itself, of course, somewhere between indictment and arraignment, which is the court proceeding where Trump is likely to plead not guilty.

And the DA could always ask the judge to unseal the case early, according to Ron Kuby, a veteran Manhattan defense lawyer, "given the public interest in the case."

But typically, only in a courtroom, during arraignment, will the physical indictment — in stapled, hard copy form — be handed to the defense team.

Whenever the judge unseals it — either at the arraignment, or earlier on Bragg's request — the district attorney's office will probably quickly release PDF copies to the press and post it on the DA website. At which point the historic document will blow up Twitter feeds worldwide.

Who gave Trump the news?

That would be his lawyers, Susan Necheles and Joe Tacopina.

"As a matter of course, you, the prosecutor, call the defense attorney, and say, 'OK, he's been indicted, and the indictment has been filed,'" Florence said.

"The prosecutor will say, 'We're looking at, you know, March 27,' or something like that. 'How does that work for you?' And then you negotiate the date for them to surrender themselves."

Then Trump turns himself in?

That's what typically happens in white-collar indictments, said Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former chief assistant with the Manhattan district attorney's office.

The defendant surrenders at the DA's headquarters in lower Manhattan at a set time on the agreed-upon date and is immediately handed over to the custody of DA investigators — armed peace officers who are often former New York cops.

At that point, Trump, if this is how it plays out, would be "under arrest," Friedman Agnifilo explained.

He would be escorted by elevator to the seventh or ninth floor to be booked. DA investigators would take his prints and mugshot. They'd swab his cheek to get a mandatory sample for New York's DNA database. They'd take his "pedigree" information.

"That's where you lie about your height, lie about your weight," Kuby cracked. "'I'm 6-3 and 205 pounds.' Sure you are. Color of hair? 'Orange.'"

A small Secret Service detail would accompany Trump every step of the way — as he arrives, as he's booked, and as he waits for his prints to come back clean, meaning no outstanding warrants, from the FBI database.

They'd be there as he is then escorted to the arraignment courtroom, through the arraignment itself, and as he leaves.

"The Service won't abandon its mission," says Bill Pickle, the former special agent in charge of Al Gore's vice-presidential detail.

Pickle predicts that given the long, excellent relationship between Secret Service and New York City law enforcement — in the one city presidents visit most often — all those details would be easily worked out.

"They will never leave him, no," Pickle said of Trump's detail.

Once his prints come back, Trump, if he were any other high-profile white-collar perp, would be walked in handcuffs by DA investigators down a courthouse hallway — with the press shouting and filming from behind barricades — to the courtroom.

There, he'd see the hard-copy indictment for the first time and plead not guilty, or his lawyers would enter that not-guilty plea on his behalf.

So that's how it'll go?

It's a very possible scenario.

Bragg, the district attorney, could well decide he's doing this one by the book, with no preferential treatment, and Trump would move from surrender to booking to arraignment just like any other white-collar defendant.

But nothing about this surrender, booking, and arraignment will be typical, experts predict.

But they must arrest him, right? If he's indicted?

Calm down. Not necessarily.

Trump could be arraigned without ever spending a moment in custody, according to a former top prosecutor in the office of the previous Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance.

"My strong bet, and it's what I would do, is that they not arrest him," said the ex-prosecutor, speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to comment on the case.

"Instead, the court could issue him a criminal summons," an order directing him to appear for arraignment, they said. "He would appear in court and then get printed before or after. No cuffs."

Would they do that? "Who knows," they said. "But logistically, it's the only thing that makes sense. Some would criticize that he's being treated differently. OK. He is different. And this is unprecedented. I would not arrest him, or, at worst, I would have it done in the back of the courtroom."

So, he'd still have to come to court?

Probably, though not necessarily.

"It is possible they could schedule a virtual arraignment, and go through the booking procedure later, which is not typical, but they could do that," Kuby said.

"The judge would have to agree, the defense and prosecution would have to agree, and there would have to be some follow-up," to get Trump printed, mugshot, swabbed, Kuby said.

"But there's no legal reason why a defendant cannot appear for their arraignment virtually."

Arraign him virtually? What?

I know. The biggest courtroom drama in the history of the US presidency could quite possibly be broadcast on Zoom.

Trump could conceivably do it all from Mar-a-Lago, in a suit and pajama bottoms. This is highly unlikely, but possible.

For now, though, the plan appears to be for Trump to appear in person at Manhattan Criminal Court, five stories up from the clerk's office, in the courtroom of New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan — the same judge who presided over the Trump Organization payroll tax-cheat trial last fall.

No handcuffs? No perp walk?

All of this will ultimately be Bragg's call.

But the Secret Service would probably give the perp walk a hard pass.

"That walk is not going to happen," said Pickle, the former Secret Service special agent. "You're not going to expose him to people who could cause him harm."

"My guess," he added, "is this is going to be a much more sedate event than you envision."

As for letting Trump be seen in handcuffs, even left-leaning defense lawyers believe that would expose Bragg, a Democrat, to accusations of election meddling and of political bias.

Handcuffs would severely limit the former president's mobility in the event of an emergency. And an image of Trump in handcuffs would enrage Trump's base.

It would be a bad look all around, Kuby said.

"I mean the man is beloved by 20% of the American population. Admittedly they're fascist psychos," Kuby deadpanned.

"But still. Why contribute to a perception of unfairness?"

Would Trump stay out on bail?

Yep. It's pretty much a certainty that Trump would remain free, probably without any bail set at all.

Under New York's recently changed progressive bail laws, defendants can be ordered held on bail only if the judge finds that they are a flight risk.

"Happily, under the current bail laws, you cannot consider whether he constitutes a danger to the community," quipped Kuby, an avowed liberal.

"I think nine out of 10 jurists would find that Donald Trump constitutes a clear and present danger, but those woke liberals prevented that from happening with New York's bail laws," he added.

"Oh, if only they could consider future dangerousness, and the likelihood of committing another crime, like in the old days," he joked.

This story is being updated to reflect news developments.

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