Former United States President Donald Trump is set to face his first criminal trial at a New York court on Monday over hush money allegedly paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the lead-up to his election win in 2016.

In March last year, prosecutors filed an indictment that made Trump the first former president of the US to face a criminal trial. They allege that the payments, falsely recorded as legal expenses, were used to bury allegations that might have hurt him during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Here is what you need to know about the case, key witnesses, and what this means for the presidential hopeful.

What is the hush money case about, and what is Trump accused of?

The hush money case revolves around allegations that Trump paid off several people during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence their claims that he engaged in extramarital sexual encounters.

Trump is alleged to have made these payments through lawyer Michael Cohen. The key evidence is a $130,000 payment made to Daniels, who was ready to go public about a sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006, a year after he married Melania Trump.

He is also accused of facilitating hush money payments of $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal over claims of an affair, and $30,000 to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child Trump had fathered.

While the payments themselves are not illegal, Trump is accused of violating federal campaign finance laws by failing to disclose money that was supposed to be used to boost his electoral chances, instead recording it as a “legal expense”.

Trump now faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records linked to the payments in this New York state criminal trial.

When is Trump’s trial expected to start and where?

The trial will start at 9:30am EDT (13:00 GMT) on Monday, April 15. The day’s proceedings, which will be held at New York County Criminal Court in New York City, are expected to end at 4:30pm (20:00 GMT).

Why has this trial generated so much interest?

This is the first time a former US president is being prosecuted for a crime.

“We don’t have any history in 235 years of a former president being prosecuted in this way. The closest we got was President Richard Nixon. In Watergate, but he was pardoned by President Ford, so he wasn’t convicted”, Bruce Fein, an American lawyer specialising in constitutional and international law, told Al Jazeera.

Trump has been indicted over three other criminal cases since Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg brought the hush money charges in March 2023, but those are yet to officially begin.

Amid the several criminal and civil trials he is facing, Trump has continued to campaign for a second term in office as part of the 2024 presidential race while topping polls, hoping to beat incumbent President Joe Biden and return to the White House.

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Who is the judge presiding over the case?

Judge Juan Merchan is presiding over the case. A 12-member jury will decide whether Trump is guilty while Merchan will determine any penalties.

Beginning Monday, the jurors from New York will be shortlisted over a week. Potential jurors are randomly selected from voter rolls and other state records and then given a questionnaire. The prosecution and defence each get to disqualify 10 people from the jury pool.

Experts say it may be a challenging process to find jurors who do not already have an opinion on the businessman-turned-politician.

Questions in the list approved by Merchan include whether prospective jurors have attended a rally or campaign event for Trump, whether they follow Trump on social media and whether they have feelings about how he has been treated in the hush money case.

How long is the trial expected to last?

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks, although this “depends upon how open and candid witnesses are”, said Fein.

If Trump takes the witness stand, which he is unlikely to, that would also make the case longer rather than shorter, added Fein.

Trump is expected to be in court on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9:30am to 4:30pm.

Will Trump’s trial be televised?

No, New York state prohibits nearly all audio and visual coverage during trials.

Judges may choose to make an exception, but Judge Merchan has not allowed cameras in his courtroom in the past. At most, photos and videos may be taken before or right after the proceedings.

Who are the key witnesses in the case?

While the prosecutors have not released their official list of witnesses, key expected figures include Daniels, McDougal, and Trump’s former lawyer, Cohen.

Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year and served federal prison time, is now a prosecution witness.

Another key witness expected in the case is David Pecker, who was CEO of American Media, the parent company of the tabloid National Enquirer, up until 2020. He is said to have been Trump’s eyes and ears for any damaging stories in the lead-up to the presidential election.

American Media paid McDougal and the Trump Tower doorman in exchange for exclusive rights to their stories, which gave the company the authority to quash them. American Media escaped any prosecution in return for its cooperation in the campaign finance investigation that led to Cohen’s guilty plea and prison sentence.

What can we expect from the defence?

Trump denies ever having an affair with Daniels and claims the payment was made to protect his family from false allegations, not to sway the election.

The defence may also continue with its strategy from previous trials, which is to paint such cases as politically motivated.

What happens if Trump is convicted?

If convicted, each charge carries a maximum of four years in prison, although just a fine or probation are also possibilities. If there are multiple prison sentences, the judge would decide whether those would run concurrently or consecutively.

Experts say some prison time is likely considering Trump’s comments and behaviour since the case.

“Typically, one of the very, very major considerations in deciding prison or not is how remorseful the defendant is. How likely is it that the defendant would recidivate if not sanctioned very strictly,” asked Fein. “I do think that if he’s convicted, it would be very improbable given his character that he wouldn’t serve at least some prison time.”

Even in the event of prison time, however, there is a customary gap between a conviction and sentencing. Trump’s legal team would almost certainly appeal any decisions around the two, thereby delaying the prospect of him spending time behind bars.

Will this hurt or help Trump’s election chances?

According to the US Constitution, Trump is allowed to seek the presidency even if he is convicted. Additionally, polls of Republican primary voters show the majority of them would support Trump as the party’s nominee even if he is convicted of a crime.

Experts say this might not be the case if there is an actual conviction.

“I think there would be a slice of people who would take things more seriously at that moment. He would be a convicted felon, and those words have some weight for some voters,” Craig Green, a professor of law and government at Temple University, told Al Jazeera.

While the trial goes on, it could also affect his ability to campaign.

Having to show up to court is likely to create a scheduling headache for the Republican candidate, especially with other cases that are also expected to begin over the next few months.

What are other trials Trump will face?

Since the hush money indictment, Trump has been indicted in three other criminal cases.

One of these is mishandling classified documents in Florida, brought forward in June 2023. Two others, filed in August 2023, involve attempts to overthrow the 2020 election in Georgia, and the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, when thousands of his supporters tried to overturn the results of the election that Biden had won.

Judges are yet to set a start date for these other trials. Prosecutors have proposed an August 5 start for the Georgia case, and Judge Aileen Cannon previously suggested a May start for the classified documents case.

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