Most of the focus on the sexual assault charges against Donald Trump has been on how they would affect his campaign. Will the accusations hurt Trump’s chances with women? Will they cause Christians to desert him? Few have considered the implications of the charges on Donald Trump’s personal life and business. The accusations against Trump are that he engaged in behavior that was not only unethical and immoral, but also illegal. Is there a possibility that Donald Trump could be prosecuted? Could Trump go to jail?
The charges against Trump fall under the broad category of sexual assault. Such crimes are typically prosecuted at the state and local level, rather than by the federal government. Each jurisdiction will have its own definition in its criminal code, but the US Department of Justice website contains a definition that should be similar to most statutes around the country. According to the DOJ, “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”
There are two major hurdles to prosecuting Trump for sexual assault. The first is evidence. Some types of sexual assault leave physical evidence. For example, in the case of rape, bodily fluids and injuries to the victim can support the accuser’s story. There is unlikely to be physical evidence to support the accusations against Trump because he is accused of improper touching, kissing and fondling, not intercourse.
Testimony by witnesses is another type of evidence. Because Trump’s actions allegedly occurred in private, there would be few, if any, witnesses to corroborate the stories of his accusers. This does not exonerate Trump either since it is plausible that he would only become aggressive in private when there were no witnesses.
Since many of the women who have come forward to accuse Trump allege that their stories were from several years ago, there is also the statute of limitations to consider. The statute of limitations establishes a time limit to bring charges against a defendant. In Florida, where some of the assaults are alleged to have occurred, the statute of limitations was doubled to eight years in 2015 according to WFTV. The measure is not retroactive, however, so the alleged assault on “People” magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff in 2005 would be considered stale.
Findlaw.com does note a provision in Florida law that places a hold on the statute of limitations when the defendant is not in the state. Since Trump does not live continuously in Florida, he might be culpable on some incidents beyond the normal four or eight years. This provision can be used to extend the statute of limitations for “not more than three years.”
In New York, where several incidents are alleged to have taken place, the statute of limitations is even more restrictive. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the statute of limitations in New York ranges from two years for a misdemeanor to five years for a felony. For some sexual crimes, such as rape or aggravated sexual abuse in the first degree or sexual conduct against a child, there is no statute of limitations. So far, the accusations against Trump do not fall into the latter category.
There is also a civil lawsuit pending against Trump that alleges that he raped a 13-year-old girl in 1994. The suit alleges that Trump attended sex parties at the New York home of Jeffrey Epstein where he raped the plaintiff, known by the pseudonym “Katie Johnson,” on numerous occasions. The suit was previously filed in California where it was dismissed on a technicality.
Jeffrey Epstein is a billionaire who is a convicted sex offender and who has associated with both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. In 2008, Epstein was convicted of soliciting prostitution from girls as young as 14. He is widely believed to have run a private sex slave island in the US Virgin Islands where his rich friends could have sex with underage girls.
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump told “New York” magazine in a 2002 profile of Epstein. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
The rape accusations are outside the statute of limitations, but the suit asks that the five-year limit be waived due to the plaintiff’s age. She also claims that Trump and Epstein threatened the girl and her family if she reported the abuse. The Real Deal quotes the lawsuit complaint, “Both defendants let plaintiff know that each was a very wealthy, powerful man and indicated that they had the power, ability and means to carry out their threat.”
Because the lawsuit against Trump is a civil case, it won’t result in jail time for Trump, even if he loses. There is the possibility that he will have to pay a civil penalty. Epstein has settled several similar suits outside of court. The case won’t go to trial until December 16, long after the election is over.
So far, Donald Trump has denied all accusations of sexual assault. He claims that his comments on the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape were “locker room talk” that he never acted on. Trump told a crowd in Charlotte, N.C on CNN, “As you have seen, I am a victim of one of the great political smear campaigns in the history of our country.”
Whether the accusations are true or not, the lack of evidence and statute of limitations mean that Trump probably doesn’t have to worry about going to jail or being forced to register as a sex offender. That could change if an accuser comes forward with a more recent incident.