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Was Trump 'Convicted' of Rape in May 2023?

In May 2023, a jury decided former President Trump defamed writer E. Jean Carroll by denying he sexually abused her.

Published Jan 17, 2024

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Former President Trump is back in court a second time over statements he made denying that he sexually assaulted writer E. Jean Carroll in the mid 1990s. Back in May 2023, after only three hours of deliberation, a jury decided that former U.S. President Donald Trump had defamed Carroll. In January 2024, Trump returned to court, this time over separate denials of culpability he made during his presidency that were not considered in the earlier trial over the same assault.

A judge ruled in September 2023 that these additional statements, which were not considered when damages were awarded to Carroll in the first case, were also defamation. A trial was set for January 2024 to determine potential damages. This new jury's job would not be to determine liability, but only to determine additional damages owed to Carrol, as Judge Lewis Kaplan explained to the jurors during the trial's opening day and reported by ABC News:

Judge Lewis Kaplan told the nine jurors that they must accept as true that Trump forcibly sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll and defamed her when he denied it. [...] The judge made it clear the jury was only determining damages related to two defamatory statements Trump made in June 2019 when he denied Carroll's rape allegation.

He said the trial was not an opportunity to re-litigate the prior trial, in which a jury found Trump liable for defamation and sexual assault. "This trial is not a do-over of the previous trial which determined those facts," Kaplan said.

Trump's reappearance in this case renewed semantic questions about what the jury concluded the previous year, with many people sharing a variation of the claim that the jury " convicted" or found Donald Trump "guilty" of rape:

As Snopes explained in May 2023, terms like "found guilty" and "convicted" are reserved for criminal cases. These cases, which center on defamation, are civil proceedings. These cases do not determine guilt but do determine "liability" for certain actions. Civil cases do not impose jail time or other criminal penalties, and as such require a different standard of proof:

Crimes must generally be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt," whereas civil cases are proved by lower standards of proof, such as "the preponderance of the evidence."

The term, "the preponderance of evidence," refers to how it was more likely than not that something occurred in a certain way.

Because Trump was not convicted of a crime, it is not accurate to say that he is "a convicted sexual abuser." Instead, it is accurate to say that a jury unanimously decided that it was more likely than not true that Trump sexually abused and forcibly touched Carroll, and as such, her defamation claim was valid.

According to The New York Times, the judge said that "for the jury to establish that Trump raped Carroll, she had to prove that Trump engaged in sexual intercourse with her, and that he did it without her consent." He said that "sexual intercourse includes 'any penetration of the penis into the vaginal opening.'" The jury answered "No" to the question "Did Ms. Carroll Prove, by a preponderance of evidence, that Mr. Trump raped Ms. Carroll," but answered "Yes" to that same question asked regarding the claims that "Mr. Trump sexually abused Ms. Carroll" and that he "forcibly touched" Carroll.

Trump's denial of these facts in an October 2022 Truth Social post were at issue in the May trial. The jury further decided, more likely than not, that Trump's statement was knowingly false and made with actual malice, making it defamatory. Carroll described the assault in detail in court, as reported by the New York Times:

Ms. Carroll said Mr. Trump asked her to help select a gift for a female friend. "I love to give advice, and here was Donald Trump asking me for advice about buying a present," she said.

She described to the jury how they went to the lingerie section and stumbled upon a gray-blue bodysuit. Mr. Trump directed her to "go put this on," she said. She declined and told him to put it on instead — banter that she described as "jesting and joshing."

Then, she said, Mr. Trump motioned her inside the dressing room, immediately shut the door and shoved her against the wall.

Ms. Carroll said Mr. Trump used his weight to pin her and pulled down her tights. She grew emotional as she spoke. "I was pushing him back," she said, adding, "I was almost too frightened to think."

"His fingers went into my vagina, which was extremely painful," Ms. Carroll said. Then, she said, he inserted his penis.

Ms. Carroll said she used her knee to push Mr. Trump away and fled. The event had lifelong consequences, she said: "It left me unable to ever have a romantic life again."

The jury awarded Carroll $5 million dollars in damages and punitive fees in that case. Presently, Carroll is seeking over 10 million dollars in damages.

Sources

DocumentCloud. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/23808241-carroll-ii-verdict-form-final. Accessed 9 May 2023.

"The Differences Between a Criminal Case and a Civil Case." Findlaw, https://www.findlaw.com/criminal/criminal-law-basics/the-differences-between-a-criminal-case-and-a-civil-case.html. Accessed 9 May 2023.

"Trump Found Liable for Sexually Abusing and Defaming E. Jean Carroll in Civil Trial and Is Ordered to Pay $5 Million." NBC News, 9 May 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/jury-reaches-verdict-e-jean-carroll-rape-defamation-case-trump-rcna82778.

Weiser, Benjamin, et al. "Jury Finds Trump Liable for Sexual Abuse and Defamation." The New York Times, 9 May 2023. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/05/09/nyregion/trump-carroll-rape-trial-verdict.

---. "Jury Finds Trump Liable for Sexual Abuse and Defamation." The New York Times, 9 May 2023. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/05/09/nyregion/trump-carroll-rape-trial-verdict.

“2 Election Deniers Don’t Make Cut as Jury Is Seated.” ABC News, https://abcnews.go.com/US/live-updates/trump-defamation-trial/2-election-deniers-dont-make-cut-as-jury-is-seated-106420469?id=106403966. Accessed 17 Jan. 2024.

Scannell, Kara. “Trump Is Liable in the Second E. Jean Carroll Defamation Case, Judge Rules; January Trial Will Determine Damages | CNN Politics.” CNN, 6 Sept. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/06/politics/e-jean-carroll-trump-defamation-lawsuit/index.html.

“Trump Damages Trial Gets Underway in E. Jean Carroll Defamation Case with Former President in Courtroom.” NBC News, 17 Jan. 2024, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-damages-trial-begins-e-jean-carroll-defamation-case-former-presi-rcna133677.
 

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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