Former prosecutors and other legal experts said that former President Donald Trump could have an edge in his classified documents case—as the case is slated to be tried in a Florida district that favors Republicans.
A federal court based in Florida is expected to draw its jury pool from a conservative-leaning area of the Sunshine State that mostly supported the former president during the 2020 election, officials said.
The Fort Pierce district in which members of the jury would be selected includes St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River, Okeechobee, and Highlands counties. President Trump won all of those counties in 2020, and notably, he got 71.8 percent of the vote in Okeechobee County, according to an Associated Press analysis.
"The more conservative the counties, the highest chance he has to find jurors that would be sympathetic with him," said Richard Kibbey, a criminal defense attorney in Stuart, Florida.
The former attorney added that "it’s going to be very difficult given the political climate across the country. Jurors will bring their own biases into the court room.”
The jury selection process is meant to weed out personal or partisan bias that could taint the case, with jurors instructed to make decisions solely on the basis of the evidence they hear. But in a federal court system where convictions overwhelmingly outnumber acquittals, defense lawyers—and prosecutors, for that matter—could nonetheless look to jury selection as a way to elicit an edge.
“Picking a jury is an art. It’s not a science. And whether you’re a prosecutor or a defense attorney, you use everything in your arsenal to seat the best jury you can get for your case,” said Michael Sherwin, a former federal prosecutor in Miami who served during the Trump administration as acting U.S. Attorney in Washington.
“You want to ensure that you have the best people in that jury box that are going to be receptive to your message. So from that perspective, if I’m DOJ, I’d much rather have a Miami jury pool than a Fort Pierce jury pool,” he added.
In contrast, some legal analysts said that the former president may face an unsympathetic or politically biased jury in New York City, where he faces numerous counts for allegedly falsifying business records during the 2016 election, and in Washington, D.C., where he faces federal charges relating to the 2020 election. Both Manhattan and the District of Columbia favor Democrats and voted heavily for President Joe Biden during the last presidential election.
Trump lawyers tried unsuccessfully to force the recusal of the judge in the New York case and have used the same tactic in Washington, saying that judge, Tanya Chutkan, has made public comments that cast doubt on her ability to be fair. The Department of Justice, in response, claimed that the former president's arguments in the case are not material and urged Judge Chutkan to stay.
On Tuesday, the former president's campaign responded to anonymously sourced reports claiming that he wrote to-do lists on documents from the White House that were marked as classified. According to the reports, they had visible classification markings and were to brief President Trump while he was still in office about phone calls with foreign leaders and other matters.
Federal prosecutors under special counsel Jack Smith have charged President Trump and two aides with illegally storing classified documents at his personal Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida, and allegedly making false statements to federal investigators who sought to get them back. The former president has said that he declassified those materials while he was president.
In June, he was charged in an indictment that included violations of the Espionage Act, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and making false statements. The former president, who is the GOP frontrunner for president in 2024, has pleaded not guilty and has accused the DOJ of acting in a biased manner to prevent him from becoming president.
The former president in January wrote on his Truth Social website that he kept folders after his presidency because they were "a 'cool' keepsake," adding: "I saved hundreds of them." He said that the papers within the folders were collected by officials after briefings at the White House.
“When I was in the Oval Office, or elsewhere, & ‘papers’ were distributed to groups of people & me, they would often be in a striped paper folder with ‘Classified’ or ‘Confidential’ or another word on them,” he wrote at the time. “When the session was over, they would collect the paper(s), but not the folders, & I saved hundreds of them.”