There’s at least one thing that’s been the same across the three Trump arraignments so far: The public hasn’t had live visibility into what’s transpired.
That’s largely because both federal courts and New York state court — where these arraignments have happened — have strict policies limiting television cameras inside the courthouse, so most of the information is conveyed via written reporting, sketches, and in some cases photographs.
This could all change in the Georgia case, however, since the state’s policy is very different. (Counties, states, and the federal system are all able to set their own rules for how to handle courthouse proceedings.)
Typically, all Georgia courtrooms allow cameras, unless there are unique extenuating circumstances. That means Donald Trump’s upcoming arraignment in Georgia and even his trial in the Fulton County case — which could take months — could also be broadcast, allowing the world to see it play out in real time.
According to legal experts, such footage can be powerful, in its ability to shape public perception of the witnesses, case, and outcome. It can combat misinformation, for example, and provide a direct source for viewers to reference. And as NPR reported, the public is more likely to have confidence in the outcome of a court case if they’re able to watch the actual proceedings.
“Any time members of the public get to see what’s happening inside a courtroom as opposed to receiving a filter via the news media later on, it can be a good thing,” says Emory law professor Kay Levine.
Here’s what to expect once Trump surrenders to Georgia law enforcement this week — and why this case could have some of the largest stakes of any of the Trump indictments so far.
What’s next for Trump’s booking and arraignment?
Trump has said he will officially turn himself in to Georgia authorities on Thursday, August 24, just shortly after the Republican debate (which he’s declined to take part in) and the airing of his interview with former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson. His arraignment, however, isn’t set to take place until later, with Georgia prosecutors pushing for proceedings the week of September 5. In Fulton County, unlike some of the other jurisdictions where Trump has been indicted, the booking process is handled independently from the arraignment when he’ll be able to offer his plea.
Because Trump has already negotiated a bond agreement, he also won’t be held in Fulton County custody after turning himself in. In total, he’s agreed to a $200,000 bond, including $80,000 for racketeering charges and $10,000 each for every other charge including making false statements and pressuring public officials to ignore the election outcome.
In addition to potential cameras in the courtroom for the arraignment, this could be the rare case in which Trump will have to take a mugshot, something his attorneys have been able to negotiate away in other instances. Theoretically, his attorneys could secure a similar arrangement this time around but Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat has emphasized that they would like to treat Trump like anyone else who has been accused of a crime.
“Unless somebody tells me differently, we are following our normal practices, and so it doesn’t matter your status, we’ll have a mugshot ready for you,” Labat told local news station WSB-TV.
Prosecutors have also signaled they’re interested in pushing for a trial that could happen as soon as March 4 ahead of the election, though Trump’s team is likely to resist. Because of Trump’s profile, the complexity of the case, and the number of defendants involved, experts note that it could take a significant amount of time to both select jurors and complete the trial itself.
What’s the significance of the cameras in the courtroom?
The transparency in the courtroom could be a significant difference. While Trump’s attorneys could try to block the use of cameras, in Georgia, “there are extremely limited circumstances in which a court would prohibit a camera from entering the courtroom,” says University of Georgia Law Professor Elizabeth Taxel.
Generally, the argument against having cameras in the courtroom is that they can intimidate jurors and witnesses who may feel nervous about being recorded. But David E. Hudson, general counsel for the Georgia Press Association, told the New York Times he could not recall a single trial that had been closed to cameras in his 40 years representing the state’s press. Georgia officials tend to argue cameras provide the public with important insight into legal cases and make trials more accessible.
Previously, Trump’s attorneys pushed to keep cameras out of the New York courthouse where his acquittal took place, arguing that it would cause a “spectacle.” At the time, a New York judge sided with his team, though it’s less typical for cameras to be allowed in any of the state’s courtrooms.
The ability to see these events unfold in real time could help people follow the specifics of the trial, experts note, and it could potentially change how attorneys and witnesses behave since they know they’ll be filmed. Additionally, a more public arraignment and trial could shape public discourse about the case much like the televised hearings of Tory Lanez, the musician sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting rapper Megan Thee Stallion, and Amber Heard, who sued fellow actor Johnny Depp for defamation, have previously done.
While Trump loyalists are unlikely to be moved by any new information in this trial, it’s possible that it could matter for crucial swing voters, who broadly think these indictments are serious. In a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, for example, 64 percent of independent voters believe the charges in the Georgia indictment are serious.
“Of all Donald Trump’s legal issues, the Georgia indictment is the most politically dangerous,” John Cluverius, director of survey research at the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion, previously said in a statement. “It’s another reminder to Georgia voters, particularly those in the suburbs, that Trump tried to steal the 2020 election and subvert their fairly counted ballots.”
Why shouldn’t you tune this fourth indictment out?
There is understandably a lot of fatigue over the many indictments Trump is facing seeing as this is the fourth time he’s undergoing this entire process.
Of the four indictments, however, Georgia ranks highly in terms of importance due to the implications it could have on the future of US democracy. This case, much like the federal indictment focused on the 2020 election, could set a precedent for how seriously courts punish those who attempt to thwart the democratic transfer of power. And its outcome could determine to what lengths future presidential contenders are willing to take to challenge election results they don’t like.
Interestingly, this case also charges 18 others who aided Trump’s scheme in Georgia, and could see high-profile figures like former Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman as well as former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows navigating their own legal consequences, too. That means it could also create new boundaries for what a candidate’s allies can legally do to help them dispute results after they lose a race.
Additionally, this indictment is one to watch because Trump would be unable to pardon himself should he become president again, given the specific rules around pardons in the state. In Georgia, pardons for criminal offenses need to be approved by a state board and can’t be issued unilaterally by the governor or the president.