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Donald Trump says he will go to Atlanta Thursday to be booked on Georgia charges

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Updated August 22, 2023 at 11:15 AM ET

ATLANTA (WABE) — Former President Donald Trump says he will voluntarily surrender on Thursday at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta. Trump faces 13 felony counts in Georgia related to efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election result.

Trump’s appearance in Georgia would come a day after the first Republican primary debate, which he says he’s skipping. Trump is currently the Republican Party’s front-runner for the 2024 presidential nomination.

The 18 other defendants in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ wide-reaching criminal case have until Friday at noon to turn themselves in for booking. Defendant John Eastman, one of the architects of the legal plan to try to keep Trump in power, turned himself in on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t matter your status,” Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat recently told reporters. “We will have a mugshot ready for you.”

In Fulton County, a booking appearance is separate from an arraignment, where a defendant issues a plea on their charges.

For most of the case’s 19 defendants, bond terms will have been negotiated in advance so they don’t have to spend long in jail awaiting a hearing, says Bob Rubin, a criminal defense attorney in Decatur, Georgia.

On Monday, a judge signed off on an agreement between prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers to set bond at $200,000.

Rubin says bond conditions consider factors like a defendant’s flight risk, danger to the community and likelihood of intimidating witnesses or committing another felony.

Trump’s bond agreement requires that he refrain from intimidating co-defendants or witnesses, including through social media. And he is not allowed to communicate with any co-defendants about the facts of the case, except through his lawyer.

“Despite saying they’re going to treat them the same as everybody else, they’re going to make sure no one’s going to get hurt in this jail,” Rubin says. “It would look really bad, so I’m sure the sheriff’s office is going to make every effort to segregate them from other inmates who may be dangerous.”

The Fulton County Jail, also known as the Rice Street Jail, is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for potential civil rights violations.

Seven people have died in custody there since the start of this year.

Labat, the Fulton County sheriff, has pledged to cooperate with the federal investigation and says it reinforces his calls for a new jail.

“I have publicly, privately and repeatedly raised concerns about the dangerous overcrowding, dilapidated infrastructure and critical staffing shortages of the jail,” he said in July.

This month, the county reached a settlement with the family of Lashawn Thompson, who died in the jail’s psychiatric wing last year and was found covered in bedbugs. An independent autopsy commissioned by the family found he died from neglect.

“It is Third World in many parts of the Fulton County Jail,” says Rubin, who has two clients who have been detained in the jail for more than two years awaiting trial.

“They have no opportunities to go outside. There’s no sunlight. There’s no yard,” Rubin says. “The jail is cold. The jail is smelly, as you can imagine. There’s water issues. There’s space issues. There’s dangerous people in the jail. It’s a pretty horrific place, such that sometimes I have nightmares.”

Eighty-seven percent of the jail population is Black and the vast majority have not been convicted, according to the Justice Department. Most are waiting for bail hearings or competency evaluations or are denied release awaiting trial because they cannot post bail.

Former President Donald Trump arrives for a Mom's for Liberty conference in Philadelphia in 2023.
Former President Donald Trump faces 13 felony counts in Georgia related to efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election result. [Matt Rourke | AP, File]

What’s next in the Trump criminal case

Willis, the district attorney, is asking a judge to schedule a March 4 trial date in the criminal case against Trump and 18 others.

Willis’ proposed scheduling order would have arraignments take place the week of Sept. 5 with a trial to begin six months later, the week before Georgia’s 2024 Republican presidential primary.

“I just think, practically speaking, that’s not going to happen,” says Jeffrey Brickman, a criminal defense attorney in Atlanta.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has been assigned the case and will set the final calendar.

McAfee, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and has been on the bench since February, will have to juggle scheduling around 19 defendants and their lawyers, as well as proceedings in the three other criminal cases Trump is facing.

McAfee also has to find time on his own calendar, and Brickman says Fulton County already has a sizable case backlog.

“This is not a discussion about people trying to play the system and delay just for the purposes of delay,” Brickman says. “It simply takes a long time, and I just think that [Willis’ timeline] is wishful thinking.”

Other factors may slow down the case, like protracted jury selection and efforts by Trump and others to move the case out of Fulton Superior Court and into federal court.

“This case has gotten so much attention that it’s going to take a long, long time to impanel a jury,” Brickman says. “Nineteen lawyers who get to ask questions of one juror. So that could take months.”

Removal to federal court

One defendant, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, has already filed a motion to remove his case to federal court. Trump is expected to do the same.

That’s because a provision in federal law allows federal officers to remove some criminal prosecutions brought by states to the federal court system.

Jonathan Nash, a law professor at Emory University, says this mechanism dates to the early 19th century, when resentment against the federal government over taxation and the War of 1812 led to an onslaught of lawsuits and prosecutions against federal officials carrying out their duties.

“The concern was that if states are allowed to bring [these] criminal prosecutions, that it can really just interfere with federal officials’ being able to do their jobs,” he said.

Nash says precedent has established three basic requirements for removal to federal court: The defendant must have been a federal officer; be facing prosecution for conduct under the “color of office”; and have a legal defense that relies on federal law in some fashion.

“It certainly has some merit, I’ll put it that way,” Nash says of Meadows’ motion to remove the case. “I don’t see it as any kind of frivolous filing. He makes arguments that make some sense.”

If these motions are successful, the Fulton County district attorney’s office would still prosecute the case and state laws would still be at issue, but a federal judge would preside.

That may end up being U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, who has set an Aug. 28 hearing on Meadows’ motion.

The jury would come not just from Fulton County, but the 10-county Atlanta Division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, which encompasses some exurban counties that lean more Republican than Fulton County.

Any convictions would not be subject to presidential pardon — only the review of Georgia’s independent review board, which can consider pardons five years after the completion of a sentence.

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