Light Wave

U.S. News

No ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card for Trump, judge rules

By Jake Beardslee · December 3, 2023

In brief…

  • Judge rejected Trump immunity claim, said no "get-out-of-jail-free pass" for ex-presidents
  • Called out argument that election overturn efforts were "official duties"
  • Struck down 1st Amendment speech claim
  • Ruling seen as influential in other Trump cases
A federal judge rejected former President Trump's claim of absolute presidential immunity from prosecution over efforts to overturn the 2020 election.  Michael Vadon/United States District Court for the District of Columbia/Wikimedia

A federal judge on Friday rejected former President Donald Trump’s argument that he cannot face criminal prosecution for actions he took while in office. In a scathing ruling, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan wrote that “Whatever immunities a sitting President may enjoy, the United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass.” She added, “Former Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability.”

In a legal brief filed in October, Trump’s attorneys asserted that he cannot face criminal charges for anything he did as president, claiming his attempts to reverse the results of the 2020 election were part of his official duties at ‘the heart of his official responsibilities as President,” according to NBC News. But Judge Chutkan dismantled that claim, stating “Defendant’s four-year service as Commander in Chief did not bestow on him the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens.”

The judge also rejected a separate motion claiming the indictment violates Trump’s First Amendment rights. “It is well established that the First Amendment does not protect speech that is used as an instrument of a crime,” Chutkan wrote, adding that the indictment properly charges Trump with “making statements in furtherance of a crime.”

The ruling came in a 2020 federal election interference case in which Trump faces trial next March. He has pleaded not guilty. The decision was issued just hours after an appeals court similarly rejected Trump’s presidential immunity argument in January 6 civil suits. Trump’s legal team is expected to appeal the new ruling, likely seeking to delay any trial past the 2024 election. A Trump spokesman told NBC News the case represents Democrats‘“dangerous precedents” and efforts to “interfere in the 2024 Presidential Election.”