Explainer-Can Trump be president despite his criminal conviction?

By Thomson Reuters May 30, 2024 | 4:16 PM

By Jack Queen

(Reuters) – Donald Trump’s criminal conviction for illegally covering up a hush money payment to a porn star will not prevent the Republican candidate from pursuing his campaign to retake the White House, even if he were sentenced to prison before the Nov. 5 election.

Here’s why.


The U.S. Constitution only requires that presidents be at least 35 years old and U.S. citizens who have lived in the country for 14 years.

Neither a criminal conviction nor a prison sentence would affect Trump’s eligibility or his ability to become president. In theory, he could be sworn in from jail or prison if he were to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

Jailhouse presidential campaigns are not unprecedented in U.S. history. Socialist Eugene Debs unsuccessfully ran for president from prison in the 1920 election, though unlike Trump he was not a serious contender.


It is not yet known what sentence, if any, the judge will impose.

Trump is a first-time offender for a nonviolent crime, and it is rare for people with no criminal history who are convicted only of falsification of business records to be sentenced to prison in New York. Punishments like fines or probation are more common.

The maximum sentence for Trump’s crime of falsifying business records is 1-1/3 to four years in prison, but in cases involving prison time, defendants are typically sentenced to a year or less.

If punished beyond a fine, Trump could be placed under home confinement or subjected to a curfew rather than imprisoned.

As a former president, he has a lifetime Secret Service detail, and the logistics of keeping him safe behind bars could be complicated.

Trump could also be released on bail while appealing his conviction.


While the hush money case is widely seen as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces, the guilty verdict could have implications for the election.

Opinion polls show a guilty verdict could cost him votes in an election that will potentially be decided by just tens of thousands of votes in a handful of battleground states.

One in four Republicans said they would not vote for Trump if he was found guilty in a criminal trial, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll of registered voters in April. In the same survey, 60% of independents said they would not vote for Trump if he was convicted of a crime.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis)