Trump says he will meet probation officer before hush money sentencing

Former U.S. President Trump found guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Donald Trump said on Monday he would be interviewed by a probation officer ahead of his sentencing next month over his historic conviction on charges stemming from hush money paid to a porn star.

In a fundraising email to supporters, the Republican presidential candidate wrote, "I'm actually about to speak to a probation officer after my RIGGED CONVICTION!" Trump did not say when the meeting would take place.

In the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president, a Manhattan jury last month found Trump guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up his former lawyer Michael Cohen's $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels for her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she says they had a decade earlier.

Trump denies the encounter and has vowed to appeal the verdict after his July 11 sentencing hearing before Justice Juan Merchan. Trump has called the charges, brought by Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a partisan attempt to interfere with his campaign.

A probation officer's report is intended to give the sentencing judge a holistic view of a defendant's life circumstances and background to help decide whether a jail sentence or an alternative like probation is appropriate, said Duncan Levin, a New York defense lawyer and former Manhattan prosecutor.

In a typical interview, the officer will ask defendants about their family, their childhood circumstances, their immigration status, and any drug use to compile a report to give judges context that may not have come out earlier in the case.

Such details are less relevant in this case because Trump's biographical details are already widely known, Levin said.

"The judge is already highly educated as to who this particular defendant is," Levin said.

The probation officer's recommendation is just one factor that judges consider in determining a sentence for criminal defendants. Prosecutors and defense lawyers also suggest sentences.

Merchan on Friday signed an order allowing Trump's defense lawyer Todd Blanche to be present during the interview. That is common, Levin said.

For defendants convicted of felony falsifying business records in the past, punishments like probation or fines are most common - but jail sentences are not unprecedented.

One factor that Merchan may consider is Trump's decision to take his case to trial. While any criminal defendant has the right to do so, judges often look favorably on people who admit culpability and express remorse.

Trump also faces three other criminal cases stemming from efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democratic President Joe Biden and his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving the White House in 2021. He has pleaded not guilty in those cases, none of which are likely to reach trial before the Nov. 5 election.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)