After Donald Trump surrenders to Fulton County authorities Thursday, the former president will be released from custody in Georgia under an already agreed-upon set of conditions, including a $200,000 bond.
As part of the conditions, Trump will be prohibited from doing anything a judge could interpret as an effort to intimidate co-defendants or witnesses or “otherwise obstruct the administration of justice.”
More specifically, Trump “shall make no direct or indirect threat of any nature” against any co-defendant, witness or victim, the community or property in the community.
“The above shall include, but are not limited to, posts on social media or reposts of posts made by another individual on social media,” reads the bond order, entered Monday by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee.
So what happens if Trump, who has previously lashed out at efforts to restrict his comments on social media, violates the order?
The practical difficulties of imprisoning a former president and the leading candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination in the Fulton County Jail make it extremely unlikely that a single violation of his release conditions, unless it’s especially egregious, would land Trump in pretrial detention, Georgia legal experts say.
“Donald Trump isn’t the kind of person you can just throw in the slammer,” Georgia State University law professor Caren Morrison said. “He’s got to have his security guys, his Secret Service, with him, and they can’t do anything that would possibly jeopardize his personal safety. So I think it would be extremely difficult to do.”
Judges have a variety of options to ensure a defendant’s compliance with a bond order short of issuing an arrest warrant, and they usually don’t like to send defendants to jail after they’ve already posted bond, Morrison said.
“They’re not necessarily jail-happy,” she said. “I think they do try to give people a chance to straighten themselves out rather than getting remanded. But if the behavior continues or is repeated, then yeah, that’s what you’re looking at at the end of the road.”
If Trump makes social media posts that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis considers threatening, he could be ordered to attend a hearing at which McAfee would review his conduct and determine whether it really violated the conditions of his release. If McAfee were to rule that Trump did violate the conditions, he would decide the appropriate punishment.
Alternatives to revoking Trump’s bond could include simply warning him against future violations, holding him civil contempt and fining him daily until the posts are deleted or allowing him to remain free but imposing stricter restrictions on his speech.
“The court’s power to ensure that its order is enforced will really depend on the manner in which the accused person has violated that order,” said state Rep. Tanya Miller, a former prosecutor in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. “The remedy can be fashioned to get at that violation, and it can mean revoking a bond, it can mean just adding additional conditions.”
However, even if a post from Trump appears to violate the conditions of his release, that’s no guarantee that Willis will alert McAfee of the violation or ask for Trump’s bond to be revoked.
“I would think that if it’s a close call, the state may decide to not be so heavy-handed, just to keep their case clean and moving forward,” Miller said. “But if there is a clear violation on all fours, for example someone has some audiotape of one of the defendants actively engaging in threats or actively trying to influence a witness, then I think the state has an obligation to ensure the integrity of the case and the integrity of the trial.”