New York (CNN) — A New York judge has set a March 25, 2024 trial date for the criminal case against former President Donald Trump, potentially creating a media spectacle in the middle of the Republican presidential primary season.
The trial date was set during a brief hearing on Tuesday, in which Judge Juan Merchán read Trump an order on what he can and cannot say publicly about the case and the evidence his legal team will receive from prosecutors to prepare. For the trial.
Trump appeared remotely via video call so the judge could communicate with him in open court.
Trump pleaded not guilty last month to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records with intent to conceal illegal conduct related to his 2016 presidential campaign. The criminal charges stem from District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation into payments from hush money, made during the 2016 campaign, to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with Trump, which he denies.
During the hearing, Trump could be seen speaking and gesturing to his attorney Todd Blanche sitting next to him on the screen, but his audio was not heard. He sometimes he would lean back with his arms folded. The former president only spoke to confirm that he had a copy of the protection order in the case. “Yes, I have,” he said.
Trump’s lawyer said the former president remains concerned that the order infringes on his First Amendment rights.
“He understands that he has to comply with the order and if he doesn’t, he is violating his order,” Blanche said during the hearing.
Merchán reiterated that there is no gag order and that Trump can publicly defend himself against the accusations related to this case.
“It is certainly not my intent to impede in any way Mr. Trump’s ability to campaign for President of the United States,” the judge said.
“He is free to defend himself against these charges. He is free to campaign,” Merchán added. “He is free to do almost anything that does not violate the specific terms of the protective order.”
The judge warned lawyers that Trump’s violation of the order could result in sanctions.
“Violation of a court order or injunction could carry sanctions including a contempt sentence, which is punishable,” Merchán said.
Schedule of trials and briefings established
Earlier this month, Merchán signed a protective order that, in part, said that evidence presented by prosecutors to Trump’s defense team could not be shared or posted on “any news or social media platform, including but not limited to , Truth Social, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat or YouTube, without the prior approval of the Court.”
Trump can only view some evidence designated by prosecutors as “limited release materials” in the presence of his attorneys and may not “independently copy, photograph, transcribe, or possess” that evidence, according to the order.
Prosecutors turned over the discovery material to Trump’s lawyers in court during Tuesday’s hearing. The case’s scheduling deadlines have been pushed back to give the defense more time to review the materials.
Prosecutors refused to hand over material to the defense before Tuesday’s hearing, requesting that the judge instruct the former president on the protection order governing his conduct in relation to the evidence in the case.
Defense motions must now be filed by Aug. 29 and prosecutors must respond by Oct. 10.
The next hearing is now scheduled for January 4, 2024.
The former president made repeated negative public comments and social media posts about the district attorney, potential trial witnesses, and the judge in this case. Prosecutors cited some of Trump’s Truth Social posts in his protection order request.
Trump and his legal team can still discuss the case publicly because there is no gag order in effect. The protective order, as drafted, specifically restricts their public discussion and the release of case material released to the defense during the discovery process.
Motion to refer the case to a federal court
Trump’s lawyers filed a motion to transfer criminal case to a federal court in Manhattan, arguing that the crimes Trump is accused of are related to his duties as president.
The defense’s request to transfer the case to federal court does not stop the state court’s ongoing schedule. A federal court hearing on that motion is scheduled for next month.