What E Jean Carroll had to prove to win her Trump civil rape trial – and why he isn’t ‘guilty’

Jurors deliberated for just three house before returning verdict at civil battery and defamation trial in New York

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 10 May 2023 14:10 BST
Related: Donald Trump mistakes E Jean Carroll for his ex-wife in video deposition footage

Jurors in E Jean Carroll’s civil battery and defamation case against former US president Donald Trump in New York took just three hours of deliberations before returning their verdict.

The nine-person panel was given the case on Tuesday and did not waste any time in bringing the case to a swift and damaging end for the 2024 Republican presidential hopeful.

The jury in the civil case returned a verdict that Mr Trump was liable for sexually abusing Ms Carroll, but not raping her, and awarded the writer a total of $5m in damages, which includes the defamation claim.

In the courtroom, the clerk read the verdict: “As to battery, did Ms Carroll prove that Mr Trump raped Ms Carroll?” The jury answered “No”.

The jury also found Mr Trump liable for wonton disregard, for which Ms Carroll was awarded $20,000, according to Inner City Press.

(EPA, Getty)

Mr Trump was also found liable for defamation as the jury found that he made false statements about Ms Carroll.

The jury found that Mr Trump acted with actual malice and that Ms Carroll had been injured, for which she was awarded $1m. For repairing her reputation, Ms Carroll was awarded $1.7m.

As the case was a civil one and not criminal, Mr Trump was not found “guilty” but rather “liable” by the jury.

Ms Carroll, a former magazine columnist, spent three days on the witness stand in a Manhattan federal courtroom alleging that Mr Trump raped her in the dressing rooms of the luxury Bergdorf Goodman department store in spring 1996, and then defamed her in a social media post last October.

For his part, Mr Trump has denied her allegations, insisting the incident she describes “never happened”.

E. Jean Carroll, center, walks out of Manhattan federal court, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in New York. (AP)

Lawyers for both sides presented more than four hours of closing arguments on Monday, with Ms Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan insisting her client’s testimony was “credible, it was consistent and it was powerful” and arguing that “every single aspect of what she said is backed up or corroborated by other evidence”.

Ms Kaplan and her colleagues argued that the testimony of two other women, Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff, who have accused Mr Trump of sexual assault, coupled with his notorious remarks from the Access Hollywood tape of 2005, indicate a repeated pattern of behaviour towards women consistent with Ms Carroll’s account.

But Joe Tacopina, a lawyer representing Mr Trump, sought to rubbish that narrative and argued that Ms Carroll being unable to give a precise date on which the alleged attack occurred suggested she was not a trustworthy witness, also making much of her decision not to report it to the police at the time.

“She has abused this system by bringing a false claim for, amongst other things, money, status, political reasons,” he said.

“And in doing so, she has minimised real rape victims, you know, rape victims down by the water and around the world, to use someone’s words. She is exploiting their pain and suffering and is capitalising on their stories and we can’t let her profit to the tune of millions of dollars for her abuse of this process and her efforts to deceive you.”

Both sides also disputed the meaning of Mr Trump’s decision not to give evidence in person, the Republican having provided only a pre-recorded deposition in which he again denied the accusations against him.

Ms Carroll’s attorney Michael Ferrara argued his absence was indicative of guilt, but Mr Tacopina declared: “How do you prove a negative? Challenging the story is our defence. There are no witnesses for us to call. There’s no witness for us to call because he was not there, it didn’t happen.”

Then on 9 May, following instruction from Judge Lewis A Kaplan, the six men and three women in the jury box began weighing up everything they heard before delivering a verdict hours later.

Ms Carroll filed her lawsuit last November under the New York State Adult Survivors Act, a state bill that enabled sexual assault allegations whose statues of limitation have long since expired to be revisited.

Her suit was a civil one, meaning the jury needed to decide whether Ms Carroll’s legal team succeeded in proving that Mr Trump did commit battery against their client “by the preponderance of the evidence”, a lower standard for certainty than the “beyond reasonable doubt” threshold employed in criminal trials, the highest in law.

Donald Trump and E Jean Carroll (Getty/Reuters)

The defamation question, meanwhile, hinged on whether the jury believed, again “by the preponderance of the evidence”, that Mr Trump knew that his denial of the accusation against him was false when he made it.

They also had to consider whether Ms Carroll’s team presented “clear and convincing” evidence that the property mogul’s statement of denial was false and that he made it in a spirit of malice, meaning there is little room left for doubt based on the information presented.

When it reached its conclusions, the jury needed to be unanimous, but could reach different verdicts on the battery and defamation claims, which were treated as two separate concerns.

After finding against Mr Trump on both battery and defamation, the jury recommended that Ms Carroll receive both punitive damages to punish him, as well as actual damages to cover the losses she experienced as a result of his alleged conduct.

Ms Carroll’s team did not put a round number on the compensation it hoped to receive should she win - but the final number came out to $5m.

Ms Kaplan said on Monday: “For E Jean Carroll this lawsuit is not about the money. It’s about getting her good name back.

“What is the price for decades of living alone without companionship, for having no one to cook dinner with, no one to walk your dog with, no one to watch TV with, and for feeling for decades like you are dirty and unworthy. I’m not going to put a number on that for you.”

The ruling: What is the definition of ‘sexual abuse’?

Ms Carroll’s lawsuit against Mr Trump was two-pronged, alleging both battery and defamation.

For battery, Judge Lewis A Kaplan presented jurors with three forms under which Trump could be found liable: rape, sexual abuse and forcible touching.

The jury did not find Mr Trump liable for rape under Judge Kaplan’s definition of sexual intercourse by force, including penetration.

Jurors did find him liable for sexual abuse, defined as touching sexual or intimate parts by force.

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