Donald Trump’s Defamation Trial with E. Jean Carroll – the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Proceedings

At the end of Donald Trump’s defamation trial this week, he was found liable by a federal jury for defamation and sexual abuse against E. Jean Carroll, but what does that mean exactly?

It means that he must pay Ms. Carroll approximately $5 million, including compensatory damages and punitive damages for defamatory statements he has made about Ms. Carroll and for sexually abusing her in a dressing room at Bergdorf’s, a New York City department store.

It does not mean that he was convicted of a crime, and he will not be sentenced to any jail time as a result of the verdict against him.

What Happened in Trump’s Defamation Trial with E. Jean Carroll?

Ms. Carroll accused Trump of raping her – physically penetrating her – in a dressing room at Bergdorf’s.

At the time, the statute of limitations for suing him for the alleged rape had long passed, but Trump opened himself to liability for defamation when he vehemently denied the accusation, repeatedly attacking Ms. Carroll in public statements.

Last year, New York State passed a new law that permitted adult sexual abuse victims to sue their attackers within one year of the date the law was passed, and Ms. Carroll promptly added the rape claim to her lawsuit.

The jurors found that Trump did defame Ms. Carroll, they found that he had sexually abused her (their options were 1) rape, 2) sexual abuse, or 3) forcible touching), and they awarded approximately $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Testimony of Other Women Who Alleged Sexual Misconduct by Trump

During the trial, Ms. Carroll testified about what happened and how it affected her, and ten other witnesses testified on her behalf – including two witnesses who testified that Ms. Carroll had told them what happened immediately after it happened (debunking Trump’s claim that she later made it up).

Two other women testified to describe similar sexual assaults that Trump committed on them.

Trump did not appear at the trial, did not testify, and did not put on a defense, apart from his deposition testimony that was played for the jurors.

Trump’s Deposition Testimony

Why didn’t Trump testify?

You can watch his deposition testimony for yourself because the court made it public – he is every attorney’s worst nightmare, and he repeatedly attacked Ms. Carroll, her attorney, and women in general during his testimony. He either was not prepped for his testimony, or he ignored his attorney’s advice as to how he should present himself.

As part of the deposition testimony, the jurors were also shown the infamous “Access Hollywood tape” where he brags about kissing women without consent and says he can “do anything” because he is a star, including “grab[bing] them by the pussy,” statements that seem to describe exactly what he did to Ms. Carroll.

Was Trump “Found Guilty” of Rape or Sexual Abuse?

I’ve seen several media reports claiming that Trump was “found guilty” of rape or “found guilty” of sexual abuse.

That’s not what happened

Trump was found liable for defamation and sexual abuse (not rape), but the term “guilty” is reserved for criminal cases. Trump was not charged with a crime – he was sued for monetary damages in a civil proceeding for the alleged rape and defamation.

The Consequences are Financial, Not Criminal

Because he was found liable, and he was not found guilty, the consequences of the verdict are financial only. He was ordered to pay approximately $5 million to Ms. Carroll as compensation for the torts that he committed – defamation and sexual abuse – and as punitive damages.

Different Standards of Proof in Civil and Criminal Trials

Another big difference between civil and criminal trials is the standard of proof.

The jurors in Trump’s defamation trial found that he committed defamation and sexual abuse by a preponderance of the evidence.

That means the jurors found that it is “more likely than not” that Trump defamed Ms. Carroll and that he sexually assaulted her. The evidence was more than 50% in Ms. Carroll’s favor.

If Trump were charged with a criminal offense, the government would have to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that he committed the crime – that there was no other reasonable explanation for the evidence they heard at trial.

Although it looks like Ms. Carroll did prove the claim beyond any reasonable doubt, it wasn’t necessary in this case.

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone represents people charged with crimes in SC state and federal courts.

If you have been charged with a crime or believe that you are under investigation in the Charleston, Georgetown, or Myrtle Beach areas of SC, call now at (843) 808-2100 or send an email to schedule a free consultation.