Understanding the Georgia RICO Case Against Trump

Learn where the Georgia RICO case stands against Trump and his allies.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Updated March 15, 2024

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 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. (Trump also faces felony charges in New York and two federal cases.)

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 (dismissed as of Mar. 13, 2024)
  • 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.

Defendants successfully challenged part of the indictment, leading to the dismissal of the six counts for soliciting public officials to violate their oaths. (More on this below.)

(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
  • Sidney Powell—former Trump attorney
  • 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 Did 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. District Attorney Fani Willis repeatedly stated that Trump and his co-defendants would 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 insisted on bail instead of release on recognizance (a promise to appear) for these defendants. Trump and his lawyers negotiated a bond agreement with the District Attorney's office. His co-defendants worked out similar agreements.

All 19 defendants surrendered to the Georgia authorities and went through the booking process, which included taking mugshots, fingerprinting, and posting bond. After booking, all defendants were released.

(Ga. Code § 17-6-1.)

Which of Trump's Co-Defendants Have Pleaded Guilty in the Georgia Case?

So far, four of the 18 co-defendants have pleaded guilty in the case.

  • Scott Hall (bail bondsman) was the first to plead guilty in the case. He pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor charges for conspiracy to interfere with the elections process. The judge sentenced Hall to five years of probation, $5,000 in fines, and 2,000 hours of community service. (Sept. 29, 2023.)
  • Sidney Powell—former Trump lawyer—pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of conspiracy, agreeing to serve six years of probation, pay a $6,000 fine and $2,700 in restitution, write an apology letter to Georgia citizens, and testify in related cases. (Oct. 19, 2023.)
  • Kenneth Chesebro, another Trump attorney, pleaded guilty to one felony. As part of a plea deal, the judge sentenced Chesebro to five years of probation, $5,000 in restitution, and 100 hours of community service. Like Powell, he must write an apology letter to the citizens of Georgia. (Oct. 20, 2023.)
  • Jenna Ellis—former Trump lawyer—pleaded guilty to one felony count. The judge sentenced her to five years of probation, 100 hours of community service, and $5,000 in restitution. She must also write an apology letter to the citizens of Georgia. (Oct. 24, 2023.)
Those who have pleaded guilty have all agreed to testify truthfully in trials relating to this case.

What Happens Next in the Georgia Case?

This case is a constantly moving target. Several defendants have taken plea deals, while others continue to file various pretrial motions relating to their alleged participation and the charges against them. Allegations of misconduct by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade have also complicated the case.

Below are some of the key motions and decisions made so far.

Removal to federal court. Several defendants sought to remove their cases to federal court but were uniformly denied. Trump withdrew his removal request.

Giuliani and Chesebro filed legal challenges to the indictment and charges in the case. Both essentially asked the judge to toss out the case. Trump attorneys joined these motions. Chesebro's motion to dismiss was denied.

Speedy trial request. Two defendants—Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro—requested speedy trials. The judge agreed to sever their cases from the rest of the co-defendants. They were scheduled to go to trial together at the end of October. Both pleaded guilty before the trial started.

Dismissal of six charges. Several defendants challenged the indictment and asked the court to dismiss six charges relating to "solicitation of violation of oath by public officers." The judge agreed with the defendants that the six charges failed to provide enough details for the defendants to adequately prepare a defense. (Prosecutors can resubmit these charges to a grand jury.) (Mar. 13, 2024)

Willis and Wade's relationship. One of Trump's co-defendants, Michael Roman, filed a motion in January 2024 asking the judge to disqualify Fani Willis and her office from prosecuting the case. The motion alleges that Willis' hiring of Nathan Wade as special prosecutor was improper because the two were involved in a romantic relationship. The judge didn't find an actual conflict of interest that would disqualify the entire DA's office. However, Judge McAfee did decide the appearance of impropriety required that either Wade step down or Willis and her team step down. (Mar. 15, 2024)