Understanding the Georgia RICO Case Against Trump

Learn what charges the former president and 18 of his allies face in Georgia.

By , Attorney

Updated August 24, 2023

Former President Donald Trump faces his fourth indictment—this one issued by a Georgia grand jury. Trump also faces felony charges in New York and in two federal cases.

The Georgia indictment charges Trump and co-defendants with state crimes relating to the 2020 election. It tracks the same alleged conspiracy described in the January 6th federal indictment. But, unlike the federal indictment in which Trump is the sole defendant, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis casts a much wider net, bringing charges against a total of 19 defendants. All 19 defendants are accused of participating in a criminal enterprise that sought to unlawfully put Trump back in power.

This article breaks down what's happening in the Georgia case against Trump and his co-defendants. It will be updated as the case progresses.

What Allegations Do Trump and Co-Defendants Face in the Georgia Indictment?

The Georgia indictment alleges that Trump and his allies unlawfully conspired to overturn the 2020 election results. It details their alleged efforts and schemes to persuade Georgia and other state officials to reject their electoral votes for Biden and instead appoint electors to cast votes for Trump. These alleged efforts included:

  • making false statements to individual state officials and state legislative bodies
  • creating and transmitting false electoral votes
  • harassing election workers and unlawfully accessing voter and ballot data
  • filing false documents with government and judicial officials
  • soliciting false statements from officials at the U.S. Department of Justice, and
  • soliciting Vice President Pence to violate his Constitutional duties.

The indictment pulls in not only activities that occurred in Georgia but also efforts that took place around the country for a period of nearly two years. Trump and others claim that they truly believed the election was rigged (and still do) and that their efforts reflected their attempts to right a grievous wrong.

What Charges and Penalties Do Trump and His Co-Defendants Face in Georgia?

The indictment lists 41 counts against the 19 defendants. The grand jury charged all 19 defendants with racketeering under Georgia's RICO statute, which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Of the remaining 40 state law violations, individual defendants face anywhere from two to 13 charges, with penalties ranging from 2 ½ to 10 years of prison time. Trump faces 13 felony counts.

The state law violations include:

  • first-degree forgery
  • soliciting public officials to violate their oaths
  • making false statements to government bodies
  • influencing a witness
  • perjury
  • conspiracy to commit election fraud
  • conspiracy to defraud the state, and
  • conspiracy to commit computer theft and trespass.

(Ga. Code §§ 16-4-7, 16-4-8, 16-9-1, 16-10-20, 16-10-20.1, 16-10-23, 16-14-4.)

What Is RICO? Why Are Trump and Allies Facing Mob-Like Charges?

RICO is a decades-old law designed to combat criminal organizations. It stands for "Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations." Congress passed the first RICO statutes, and now many (if not all) states have enacted their own versions of RICO.

Criminal enterprise. RICO statutes focus on patterns of criminal activity committed by a criminal organization or enterprise. Over the years, prosecutors have used RICO statutes to bring down criminal organizations run by notorious mob bosses and drug smugglers. But they've also been used to take down criminal enterprises that involve gangs, sports executives, and police departments.

Racketeering crimes. Some of the most famous RICO cases involved drugs, murders, kidnappings, and large financial schemes. But most RICO statutes—including Georgia's—have a much broader reach and target dozens of less sensational crimes, such as fraud, computer theft, forgery, and witness tampering. It's these crimes that District Attorney Willis focused on in the Georgia indictment.

Georgia's RICO law provides prosecutors a way to bring together numerous crimes and acts committed by several individuals into one prosecution. In this case, the Georgia indictment tracks the 19 defendants and their alleged efforts as a group (the so-called criminal enterprise) to overturn the 2020 elections by filing false statements with government officials, intimidating witnesses, and committing forgery and computer trespass, among other racketeering crimes.

(Ga. Code §§ 16-14-3 to -5.)

Who Are the Co-Defendants in the Georgia Case?

Trump's co-defendants include a number of attorneys, campaign and election officials, Republican party leaders, a bail bondsman, a pastor, and friends of Trump. Some of the most well-known co-defendants include:

  • Rudy Giuliani—Trump's personal attorney
  • John Charles Eastman, Kenneth Chesebro, and Jenna Ellis—attorneys and advisors to the Trump campaign
  • Ray Stallings Smith III—Trump's Atlanta-based attorney
  • Mark Meadows—Trump's former Chief of Staff, and
  • Jeffrey Clark—U.S. Department of Justice official.

Giuliani, Eastman, and Smith face some of the most serious charges, along with Trump.

Why Do Trump and His Co-Defendants Have to Post Bond in the Georgia Case?

Georgia has stricter bail laws than many other parts of the country. And District Attorney Fani Willis has repeatedly said that Trump and his co-defendants will be treated just like any other defendant. All of the defendants are facing serious felonies. The RICO charge alone carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. So it's not surprising that the District Attorney is insisting on bail instead of release on recognizance (a promise to appear) for these defendants. Trump and his lawyers have negotiated a bond agreement with the District Attorney's office. His co-defendants worked out similar agreements. A judge must sign off on the agreements.

(Ga. Code § 17-6-1.)

What Happens Next in the Georgia Case?

Trump and his co-defendants must surrender to the Georgia authorities and go through the booking process, which includes taking mugshots, fingerprinting, and posting bond. After booking, all defendants should be released.

The District Attorney has proposed arraignment dates during the week of September 5. At an arraignment, the judge typically reads the charges, informs defendants of their rights, and takes a defendant's plea. It's possible Trump and his co-defendants won't appear for their arraignments. Georgia rules don't require a defendant's appearance. Instead, the defendant's lawyer can enter the plea.

(Ga. Sup. R. Ct. 30.2.)