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Defense lawyers say Trump got special treatment from NYC probation and are crying foul

Laura Italiano   

Defense lawyers say Trump got special treatment from NYC probation and are crying foul
  • Donald Trump was allowed to do his NYC presentencing interview virtually, with his lawyer present.
  • A mayoral rep called the arrangement common, but critics said it showed a "two-tiered" justice system.

Donald Trump was allowed to do his presentencing interview on Monday via video and with his lawyer at his side — and New York City defense attorneys with clients who are neither billionaires nor former presidents are crying foul.

Defendants who aren't in jail while awaiting sentencing are told to attend in person — and alone — when they sit for an interview with the city Department of Probation, multiple city defense attorneys told Business Insider.

Trump's 30-minute interview was conducted virtually, not in person, from Mar-a-Lago, and he had his attorney Todd Blanche at his side, the Associated Press reported.

In New York, probation officers talk to the defendant and the prosecutor in separate presentencing interviews in preparation for what's known as a presentencing report.

These reports are important because they recommend to the judge what punishment would be appropriate.

Trump is due to be sentenced on July 11 for last month's conviction in Manhattan on 34 counts of falsifying business records in his so-called hush-money case.

"All people convicted of crimes should be allowed counsel in their probation interview, not just billionaires," four New York City public-defender organizations said in a joint statement Monday.

"This is just another example of our two-tiered system of justice," said the statement, issued by The Legal Aid Society, The Bronx Defenders, New York County Defender Services, and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.

A city spokeswoman told BI that Trump wasn't getting preferential treatment by being allowed to do his interview via video and with his lawyer.

"It's common — it's not unusual, and it's been an option from even before COVID," Ivette Dávila-Richards, a deputy press secretary for the mayor's office, said of Trump's virtual interview. "No exceptions are being made because it's President Trump," she added.

It's true that defendants who are locked up while awaiting sentencing typically do presentencing interviews via video, defense lawyers told BI.

But defendants such as Trump, who are at liberty, are almost always required to appear alone and in person for their probation interviews, the lawyers said.

They also complained that Trump was able to have Blanche at his side only through the most uncommon of circumstances.

The trial judge, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, ordered probation on Friday to allow Blanche to attend Trump's interview after prosecutors didn't fight the request, court filings show.

"I've never been present at a probation interview," Sam Roberts, a veteran Legal Aid attorney, said. He estimated he'd had well over 3,000 clients do these interviews.

"In fairness, at least when clients are detained pending sentence, it will be a procedural nightmare to permit attorneys to attend," said Thomas Eddy, an attorney from Rochester, New York, who's fighting the no-counsel rule on the appellate level.

He shared with BI emails from last year in which probation and court officials said it was policy for defendants to be interviewed without their lawyers unless there was an exceptional need for counsel to be present.

"Defendants are prejudiced daily by damaging statements they make without counsel present," Eddy said.

A negative probation report could hurt an inmate seeking a lower security level, work release, and parole, he said.

"How much trouble do you think Trump would get into today if Blanche wasn't there to muzzle him?" Eddy asked.

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