Why wasn’t Donald Trump handcuffed? Did he get a mugshot?

Donald Trump sitting in a courtroom
Former President Donald Trump sits at the defense table with his legal team in a Manhattan court, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in New York. Trump is appearing in court on charges related to falsifying business records in a hush money investigation, the first president ever to be charged with a crime. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Well? Was Donald Trump placed in handcuffs? Did he receive a presidential mugshot like everyone wondered

In fact, Tuesday’s dizzying panorama of Trump’s arrest and arraignment on more than two dozen felony charges tied to hush money payments to, among others, porn star Stormy Daniels featured no handcuffs and no mugshot. 

It is standard practice for a felony arrest in New York to result in a mugshot, or a photograph taken of an arrested person typically used for identification and record-keeping purposes, says Daniel Medwed, Northeastern University distinguished professor of law and criminal justice, said before Tuesday’s arraignment. 

But the indictment of a former president is anything but a matter of routine procedure, even for a comparatively busy courthouse such as the one Trump surrendered to this week in New York City. Trump is the first current or former U.S. president to be indicted.

Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records for his alleged role in several hush money payments, according to multiple reports. Indeed, he was not placed in handcuffs on Tuesday, meaning he received special—some might even say presidential—treatment, Medwed says.

According to the details of the unsealed indictment, the case against Trump rests on three hush money deals—one to an ex-Trump Tower doorman; another to Karen McDougal, a Playboy model; and a final one to Daniels through Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, The New York Times reports. Prosecutors link these payments to violations of campaign finance law—part of how Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office planned to turn misdemeanor charges under New York state law into felony charges.

The handcuffing and booking photo usually take place prior to a court appearance, says Rose Zoltek-Jick, associate teaching professor in the School of Law and associate director of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern. “But these are unusual circumstances.”

That prosecutors would forgo standard procedure is not surprising and was widely predicted. Northeastern experts say the decision to do so is partially a concession to his status as a former president, and partially to prevent Trump, who is running for president a second time, from exploiting the situation. 

“They’re taking an anti-martyr stance,” says Michael Meltsner, the George J. and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Law.

A presidential perp walk and booking photo would certainly have provided Trump with more fodder to paint himself as the victim of politically motivated prosecution, Meltsner says. 

If he was arrested, it would have been because “he wanted to be taken into custody,” Meltsner argues. 

But the want of such a booking photo hasn’t stopped the Trump campaign from fashioning their own “mugshot T-shirts.” In recent days, Trump’s advisers have urged the former president to capitalize on a potential mugshot to raise campaign funds, according to Rolling Stone magazine. 

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at t.stening@northeastern.edu. Follow him on Twitter @tstening90.