According to this article in the Guardian:

US Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is so confident in his support base that he said he could stand on New York’s Fifth Avenue “and shoot somebody” and still not lose voters.

Obviously this is a rhetorical flourish - as the journalist points out. Nevertheless I'm curious what would happen if a sitting president actually did something like this. What would happen? Would he first have to be impeached and then stand trial? Or would he stand trial straight-away. To be clear, the situation I'm envisaging is not an act of defence, but exactly as reported above: he takes a gun, walks into the street and shoots someone with no provocation. And with plenty of witnesses so the incident itself is in no doubt.


This question is not a duplicate of the above. I'm not asking what would 'occur if a president was put into prison' but asking about how, constitutionally, would the US handle a serious crime alleged of a sitting President and where the crime alleged itself is not in doubt.

Its worth pointing out that the phrase 'high crimes and misdeneamours' according to this article in Wikipedia covers offences particular to the office and so is commensurate with the abuse of powers of that office. It doesn't, on the face of it, cover straight-forward crimes like this.

  • I'm not voting to close yet as my vote would be binding
    – user4012
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 18:12
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    If you have a gold tag badge you can close questions on that tag.
    – James K
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 18:43
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    @JamesK: Ok, thats good to know. The last sentence of that question touches similar ground - however the question is ambiguously phrased and the answers reflect that ambiguity. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 18:49
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    Related question from Law.SE: law.stackexchange.com/q/17025/993
    – user5155
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 19:46
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    It's not an exact duplicate of the cited question, but your question is duplicated as part of that question - "What would happen if a sitting United States president was put in prison? Could such a thing even happen? Would he be removed from office before this, or could he even be sentenced for anything?" Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 22:30

1 Answer 1


The Secret Service would rush in and secure the perimeter to make sure the President is safe, then he'd likely be taken back to the White House for a spin session to get all major (alive) parties' stories straight and figure out a strategy for moving forward.

There is no specific mechanism for the President to be tried or convicted of a crime, and the Founders did not imagine a situation in which the Congress would fail to be a check on the Executive branch. As such, the only Constitutional solution we have available is impeachment. However, this process would take weeks if not months, and none would dare jail a sitting President. In the short term, he'd be advised to hunker down in the White House in fear of attempted reprisal killings.

Then the pundits would begin to pick apart the background of the victim, finding any bad thing that he or she had done in their life that would justify their death. They would then begin the process of lionizing Trump for his willingness to get down in the dirt 'with the people' to help deal with this eminent threat. Panels of Southwesterners would be brought in to remind everyone that frontier justice was common in the Southwest until recently and people who knew the victim and have a grudge against him/her will be invited on TV to smear his/her good name.

By the end of the week, Congress will be waffling whether or not to impeach him at all. It would likely come down to whether the base believes the spin or not.

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    I think this answer could be greatly improved by clarifying what the constitution says exactly on presidential immunity (or clarify there is no such thing in the constitution), and by removing the allegations US conservatives would defend a murder no matter what (which, I think, is quite serious allegation, and thus far without evidence; even though I am hardly a fan of the GOP, I would hope they are above that).
    – user11249
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 20:07
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    I've read through my answer several times and other than the mention of a panel of Conservative Southwesterners (a flourish, I admit), I do not mention party or political viewpoint of the actors involved.
    – Carduus
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 20:13
  • Re "...There is no specific mechanism for the President to be tried or convicted of a crime...": please clarify why there should be such a mechanism. All US elected officials are citizens, therefore the laws of the US apply to them as well. For example, suppose the POTUS sneaks away one night, (the Secret Service think he's still in bed), disguises himself with a fake mustache, has a few beers, drives home and gets a speeding ticket. It's hardly an impeachable offense, but he'd still have to pay the ticket.
    – agc
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 15:24
  • Because in the system our Founders were cribbing from (the English Parliamentary system), impeachment was supposed to be more flexible than mere indictment of a documented crime. Doing something as mundane as embezzling funds could land a Parliamentarian jail time, or even execution. But then came Associate Justice Joseph Story, who ruled:
    – Carduus
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 15:34
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    “There are . . . incidental powers belonging to the executive department which are necessarily implied from the nature of the functions which are confided to it. Among these must necessarily be included the power to perform them. . . . The president cannot, therefore, be liable to arrest, imprisonment, or detention, while he is in the discharge of the duties of his office, and, for this purpose, his person must be deemed, in civil cases at least, to possess an official inviolability.” --Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 1563, pp. 418-419 (1st ed. 1833).
    – Carduus
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 15:34

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