As former President Donald Trump’s New York civil fraud trial heads to conclusion in New York state court, his next civil trial begins in federal court in Manhattan. It is centered on the defamatory statements Trump made about sexually assaulting E. Jean Carroll and begins Tuesday. Carroll I, as the case is referred to, will focus exclusively on damages Trump owes to Carroll. On this issue the jurors must reach a unanimous verdict, unless the parties agreed otherwise, which they did not. An earlier jury verdict, in Carroll II, already found that Trump sexually assaulted Carroll in the 1990s and then defamed her while in office. As we explain below, despite Trump’s wishes, that issue cannot be relitigated. This essay outlines the legal and factual issues of this trial, as part of Just Security’s coverage of Trump litigation and issues of accountability and the rule of law.

The trial poses potential financial and reputational harm for Trump. As one of the authors has explained, the underlying findings that Trump has been adjudged to be a sexual assaulter—which will be amplified in Carroll I—may negatively affect his standing among the American public. At least, that is what political science research suggests. On the other hand, in the civil fraud trial Trump proved adept in exploiting proceedings to actually drive political advantage—clashing with the legal system and the court’s rulings. In many respects, he appears willing to sacrifice success at trial for those purposes. This case will pose the latest test of whether he can be restrained within the bounds of the rule of law—and of how the legal system responds to his excesses.

I. Limits on Trump’s Testimony

The most recent conflict surrounds the limits on Trump’s potential testimony at trial, currently expected for Monday, Jan. 22 (although it remains to be seen whether Trump will ultimately decide to testify). The scope of Trump’s possible testimony will be hotly contested. Trump—through his filings in this case and his conduct in other ongoing legal proceedings, most recently the New York Attorney General civil fraud trial—is likely to try to stray beyond legally permissible bounds to continue a pattern of exploiting litigation opportunities for political advantage. It will ultimately be up to the judge to enforce the rules.

As noted below, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan has already ruled on what Trump can and cannot say. The former president is prohibited from denying the sexual assault, which includes denying knowing Carroll. Trump also cannot attack Carroll’s motives or dispute the law on rape.Trump, like any witness, also may not make any other prejudicial, irrelevant, or inadmissible statements.

On Friday, in anticipation of Trump’s “seek[ing] to sow chaos” in the trial, Carroll’s team asked Judge Kaplan for “prophylactic measures.” These included a request that Trump “state on the record and under oath, out of the presence of the jury, but in open court—that he understands that it is established for purposes of the trial that he sexually assaulted Ms. Carroll, and that he spoke falsely with actual malice and lied when accusing her of fabricating her account and impugning her motives” (emphasis added for clarity). They further asked that Trump confirm, under oath, that he “understands and accepts all of the limits that the Court has imposed on his testimony in this action and will conduct himself in the courtroom in accordance with those limitations.” Finally, Carroll’s lawyers have also proposed curative jury instructions to be utilized if Trump violates any of the court’s orders or other accepted boundaries.

The defense responded Sunday, effectively arguing that Trump was permitted to speak on pretty much anything. Notwithstanding the court’s Jan. 9 order limiting trial evidence, Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba wrote that Trump “can still offer considerable testimony in his defense—testimony that he should not be made to share with Plaintiff before the trial.” Specifically, the defense argues, Trump should be given the opportunity to testify about the circumstances surrounding his 2019 statements, including “the affirmative questions he was asked by reporters, which propagated his response to and denial of Ms. Carroll’s story in New York magazine, and whether he was acting with hatred or ill will when he provided his answers. He can do this without opining on the actual underlying events.” Also, the defense says that “Trump can testify about his state of mind, the timing of the statements, and his mitigation or correction of any statements,” without violating the court’s order, as well as “testify about the circumstances of his comments, as they related to comments in Ms. Carroll’s continuous parade of interviews and publicity.” Finally, taking issue with the court having “left open the issue of whether Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff can testify and…[having] admitted the Access Hollywood tape into evidence,” the defense argues Trump has “the right to rebut those accounts and provide his version of the events.”

Most fundamentally in terms of the court’s existing orders, the defense took particular issue with the plaintiff’s request for Trump to, as the Trump legal team put it, “proffer his guilt, under oath, for acts that he maintains did not occur and which were only adjudicated by a jury under a preponderance of evidence standard.” “We presume that this is not a kangaroo court of a third-world country where a party to a lawsuit is involuntarily made to say what a court and an opposing party wants them to say … it would be a manifest injustice to require” Trump to do so.

Carroll’s concerns are justified and will likely result in some action by Judge Kaplan. We do not expect Judge Kaplan to adopt Carroll’s prophylactic suggestions in full. Carroll has proposed some especially onerous solutions – particularly the request that Trump proactively admit to sexually abusing Carroll under oath, for the purposes of this trial, before being allowed to testify. That would be unusual, and would not be strictly necessary. But Judge Kaplan will certainly take proactive measures to prevent Trump from violating any judgments, court orders, or presenting any inappropriate testimony to the jury.

The need for reasonable restrictions on the limits of Trump’s potential testimony is highlighted by his conduct in the New York civil fraud case last week. There, Trump defied Judge Arthur Engoron’s written and oral orders regarding the content of any closing speech Trump wished to make. Trump instead spoke on matters outside the scope of the legal issues before the court. The harm Trump caused last week was relatively limited, compared to the potential damage he could cause in Carroll I: the civil fraud case is a bench trial, so his statements were only made before the judge as sole finder of fact. However, Carroll I is a jury trial, and Judge Kaplan must take precautions to prevent the jury from being confronted with inappropriate statements and impermissible evidence. The judge is an experienced and tough jurist and has shown every sign he will do so.

II. The Core of the Case

How We Got Here, and How Long This Part Will Last

Last year, in May 2023, Trump lost a related case – referred to as Carroll II – in which he was found liable for battery and defamation related to statements he made in 2022. In that case, a jury found that Trump sexually abused Carroll and awarded Carroll a total of $5 million in damages.[1] This trial, Carroll I, centers solely on similar defamatory statements Trump made in 2019 and now solely on the question of damages owed.

Trump has repeatedly sought to delay the Carroll I case, but has been rejected at least twice by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and as recently as Sunday by Judge Kaplan.[2] Trump this time claimed he sought delay for the funeral of his mother-in-law, but, as the judge noted, Trump had also scheduled political activity during the relevant period. Trump has also sought to have the Carroll I case dismissed on presidential immunity grounds, but that claim was rejected by both Judge Kaplan and the Second Circuit.

The trial and jury selection in Carroll I will begin Tuesday, Jan. 16. On Sunday, Judge Kaplan suggested it is possible that both parties could rest their cases, aside from Trump’s testimony, as early as Thursday, Jan. 18. If so, Judge Kaplan stated he would impose a continuance until Monday, Jan. 22, in the event Trump wished to testify. Given the limited factual disputes in this case, we do not anticipate that the trial will be lengthy.

A Case With Limited Issues

The jury in Carroll I will not be considering whether Trump defamed Carroll with his 2019 statements. The jury will be instructed that Trump did sexually assault Carroll, and that he did defame her by lying about the assault and his relationship with Carroll. Judge Kaplan has repeatedly ruled that, as a matter of law, those issues have already been settled in Carroll II, and under principles of collateral estoppel, cannot be relitigated in this trial.[3]

This also applies to Trump’s defamatory statements in 2019. Although the Carroll II decision rested upon comments Trump made in October 2022, Judge Kaplan has ruled more than once that the 2019 comments were “substantially similar” to the 2022 statements the Carroll II jury found to be defamatory. Indeed, in large part based on this finding, Judge Kaplan granted Carroll partial summary judgment on liability on Sept. 6, 2023. In his Jan. 9, 2024 order on Carroll’s motion in limine, Judge Kaplan again ruled that Trump was precluded from alleging that Carroll fabricated her claims.[4]

Assessing Damages

The entirety of this trial will center on the damages Trump owes for the defamatory statements he made in June 2019. The damages recoverable in a defamation claim are made up of (1) compensatory (general and special) damages, and (2) punitive (or exemplary) damages.[5] Carroll is seeking at least $10 million in compensatory damages as well as unspecified punitive damages to be determined at trial. “The question of the amount of damages to be awarded in defamation actions is peculiarly within the jury’s province, requiring prudence and restraint by a trial court in the exercise of its discretion over such awards.”[6]

Carroll appears likely to succeed in securing meaningful damages. The jury in Carroll II, which deliberated for just over three hours, delivered hefty damages totalling $5 million. On the defamation claim, based on a statement Trump published on his social media platform in October 2022, the jury found that Carroll was entitled to $2.98 million — consisting of $1.7 million in compensatory damages for the “reputation repair program,” $1 million in compensatory damages for damages other than the reputation repair program, and $280,000 in punitive damages.. Notably, Carroll’s damages expert, Professor Ashlee Humphreys, estimated the cost of the “reputation repair campaign” to range between $368,183.78 and $2,763,107.82.

In her amended complaint,[7] Carroll supported her request for damages with allegations of harm suffered as a “direct” result of Trump’s 2019 statement, including “emotional pain and suffering … as well as injury to her reputation, honor, and dignity.” Further, Carroll “suffered professional harm” and lost “the support and goodwill of many of her readers” after the then-President “branded” her a “liar,” the complaint reads.[8] Carroll requested damages in excess of $10 million, based on Professor Humphreys’ calculation of what would be minimally required to restore Carroll’s reputation. Professor Humphreys assessed that a reputation repair campaign would cost between $2.1 and $12.1 million, and concluded “that the minimum appropriate corrective campaign” would total $6.2-$7.2 million. The Carroll II jury awarded compensatory damages for a corrective campaign at the high end of Professor Humphreys’ suggested range.

We address below potential compensatory and punitive damages. Judge Kaplan has yet to confirm the jury instructions for this trial;[9] but his jury charge in Carroll II reflected New York’s civil pattern jury instruction and provides insight into both his approach and the jury’s task. In determining the amount of damages awarded, the jury will need to consider the nature and severity of the statements, their impact on Carroll, the financial position of both parties, and other legally relevant factors. Evidence of psychological trauma and emotional distress will likely be key.

Compensatory Damages

Firstly, Carroll is likely to be awarded compensation for economic loss (lost income, career opportunities, or business deals due to damaged reputation) as well as for emotional distress (mental anguish, humiliation, and reputational harm).[10] New York law does not impose a statutory cap on compensatory awards for defamation, and, regardless, Judge Kaplan has already refused Trump’s request to cap compensatory damages in the trial to those awarded in Carroll II.

In Carroll II, the jury were instructed on compensatory damages. They were first asked whether Carroll proved by a preponderance of the evidence that she was “injured as a result” of Trump’s publication of the October 12, 2022 statement—i.e., was there actual and financial harm?[11] If so, the jury were directed to:

“award an amount that, in the exercise of your good judgment and common sense, you decide is fair and just compensation for the injury to the plaintiff’s reputation and the humiliation and mental anguish in her public and private life which you decide was caused by the defendant’s statement. In fixing that amount, if you fix one, you should consider the plaintiff’s standing in the community, the nature of Mr. Trump’s statement made about Ms. Carroll, the extent to which the statement was circulated, the tendency of the statement to injure a person such as Ms. Carroll, and all of the other facts and circumstances in the case. These damages can’t be proved with mathematical certainty. Fair compensation may vary, ranging from one dollar, if you decide that there was no injury, to a substantial sum if you decide that there was substantial injury.”[12]

Judge Kaplan has already ruled that Trump acted with constitutional malice (knowing that the statement was false or with reckless disregard to its truth or falsity), which is sufficient to award compensatory awards. The question now is how much.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are also on the table – and potentially far in excess of the $280,000 awarded in Carroll II. Punitive damages are usually awarded to punish defendants for malicious or egregious conduct, deter future similar actions, and vindicate the plaintiff’s reputation.[13]

In the court’s July 5, 2023, order denying Trump’s motions for summary judgment, Judge Kaplan found that Trump had “failed to establish that there is not a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the prerequisites to a punitive damages award in this case have been satisfied.” Unlike compensatory damages, which require only constitutional malice, punitive damages mandate a higher level of intent; Judge Kaplan did not rule on this factor and thus it must be decided by the jury. As with compensatory awards, the jury has a broad discretion in awarding punitive damages.[14]

To award Carroll punitive damages, the jury must find by a preponderance of the evidence that Trump acted with common law malice when making the statements at issue. That is, the jury must be sure that Trump, in addition to knowing his statements were false or acting in reckless disregard of their truth, made the statements deliberately and “solely” with intent to injure Carroll, or out of hatred, ill will, or spite, or with willful, wanton or reckless disregard of her rights.[15]

In Carroll II, Kaplan directed the jury’s consideration should weigh heavily “the nature and reprehensibility” of what Trump did in defaming Carroll, which included Trump’s “awareness of what harm the conduct caused or was likely to cause.” Further, the jurors were directed to consider “the actual and potential harm created” by Trump’s conduct, as well as his financial condition and the impact punitive damages would have on him.[16] The Carroll II jury found the elements of common law malice had been met.

Though not forming the basis of the current claim, Trump’s October 2022 and May 2023 statements will also be relevant to Carroll’s entitlement to punitive damages.[17] Trump’s continued defamation, in spite of the May 2023 verdict, may signal to the jury a malice and disregard for Carroll, potentially justifying a higher damage award.


Regardless of whether Americans’ impressions of Trump will be affected by the results of the federal trial being held this month in New York, he appears likely to lose in the courtroom. Barring something unforeseeable, Carroll is likely to receive further vindication and a hefty sum in compensatory damages. The big questions are how much, and whether the jury will also award punitive damages. Before those decisions are made, the most significant open question is how Trump might conduct himself in the courtroom. There is every reason to anticipate Judge Kaplan exercising judicious control over the courtroom, and for the American public to see the legal system operate, in this case, according to its ideals.

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  1. The jury also found that Trump did not “rape” Carroll, per the “narrow, technical meaning of a particular section of the New York Penal Law.” But Judge Kaplan noted in Caroll II that this definition did not capture how the term is commonly used – and that, properly understood outside the specific and limited context of the New York Penal Law, the jury found that Trump did indeed rape Carroll. “[T]he definition of rape in the New York Penal Law is far narrower than the meaning of ‘rape’ in common modern parlance, its definition in some dictionaries, in some federal and state criminal statutes, and elsewhere. The finding that Ms. Carroll failed to prove that she was ‘raped’ within the meaning of the New York Penal Law does not mean that she failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape.’ Indeed, as the evidence at trial recounted below makes clear, the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact did exactly that.” Order denying Trump Rule 59 motion (July 19, 2023) (Carroll II) at pp. 3-5.
  2. See also Order denying Trump request for Trial Postponement (Jan. 12, 2024); 2nd Cir. order denying Trump motion to stay mandate following its order denying Presidential Immunity appeal (Dec. 28, 2024); 2nd Cir. order denying Trump request to stay district court proceeding pending resolution of petition for rehearing en banc of 2nd Cir. order denying Presidential Immunity appeal (Jan. 3, 2024). 
  3. The “trial is limited to the issue of damages sustained as a result of the defendant’s June 21 and 22, 2019 statements. Those statements already have been determined to have been false, defamatory, and made with constitutional actual malice,” Judge Kaplan underscored most recently on Jan. 14. See also Order granting Carroll partial summary judgment on liability (Sept. 6, 2023) (Carroll I) at pp. 13, 16 (“[T]he substantive content of Mr. Trump’s 2022 statement, which the jury in Carroll I found to be defamatory, is identical to the substantive content of Mr. Trump’s 2019 statements, the jury’s finding in Carroll II is controlling in this case…The truth or falsity of Mr Trump’s 2019 statements therefore depends – like the truth or falsity of his 2022 statement – on whether Ms Carroll lied about Mr Trump sexually assaulting her….The jury’s finding that she did not therefore is binding in this case and precludes Mr Trump from contesting the falsity of his 2019 statements.”); Order on Carroll’s motion in limine (Jan. 9, 2024) (Carroll I) at pp. 3, 13, & 14 (”[T]he fact that Mr Trump sexually abused – indeed, raped – Ms Carroll has been conclusively established and is binding in this case.” Trump and his counsel are thus “precluded from offering any testimony, evidence, or argument suggesting or implying that he did not sexually assault Ms Carroll, that she fabricated her account of the assault, or that she had any motive to do so.” “In other words,” Kaplan added, “the material facts concerning the alleged sexual assault already have been determined, and this trial will not be a “do over” of the previous trial…. [T]his case will be tried … [solely] on the issue of damages for the June 2019 statements.”). See also id., at p. 17.
  4. Id. See also Order denying Trump motion to stay (Aug 18, 2023) (Carroll I); Order denying Trump motion for summary judgment (July 5, 2023) (Carroll I).
  5. On damages in defamation cases, see generally 44 N.Y. Jur. 2d Defamation and Privacy XI. Damages; Crane v. New York World Telegram Corp., 308 N.Y. 470, 126 N.E.2d 753 (1955).
  6. 44 N.Y. Jur. 2d Defamation and Privacy § 234. Excessive or inadequacy of damages (citations omitted). In order to succeed in appealing a jury’s damages verdict on the ground it is excessive, the appellant must establish with convincing evidence that the jury “‘deviate[d] materially from what would be reasonable compensation,’” and draw specific comparison to awards in similar cases. Stampf v. Long Island R. Co., 761 F.3d 192, 204 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting N.Y. CPLR § 5501(c)) (emphasis added). See also Okraynets v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 555 F. Supp. 2d 420, 439 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (The relevant standard “is not whether an award deviates at all from past awards – it is whether an award deviates materially from reasonable compensation.”) (emphasis in original). Judge Kaplan refused to amend the jury’s award in Carroll II and, as with any appellate court, would, in all likelihood, take a similar position in this case.
  7. See also Memorandum of law in support of Carroll motion to amend (May 22, 2023) (Carroll I); Redline Comparison between Carroll initial and amended complaint (Carroll I) (May 22, 2023).
  8. The amended complaint continues at §§ 141-149: “In all, and based on conservative assumptions, Trump’s June 2019 defamatory statements generated between 142,334,424 and 188,155,507 impressions across various media. An estimated 34,075,512 to 42,936,354 of these were receptive impressions—i.e., impressions involving individuals likely to believe Trump’s false claims about Carroll. As a result, the minimum appropriate corrective campaign, as calculated by Professor Ashlee Humphreys, would cost at least $10 million.”
  9. See Carroll proposed jury instructions (Nov. 15, 2023) (Carroll I); Trump proposed jury instructions (Nov. 15, 2023) (Carroll I).
  10. 44 N.Y. Jur. 2d Defamation and Privacy § 229. Compensatory or actual damages; special damages
  11. Order denying Trump Rule 59 motion (July 19, 2023) (Carroll II) at pp. 33-34. See also N.Y. Pattern Jury Instr.–Civil 3:29A; N.Y. Pattern Jury Instr.–Civil 3:29B.
  12. Id.
  13. 44 N.Y. Jur. 2d Defamation and Privacy § 230. Punitive or exemplary damages
  14. Id. See also Toomey v. Farley, 2 N.Y.2d 71, 156 N.Y.S.2d 840, 138 N.E.2d 221 (1956).
  15. See also Order dismissing Trump motion for summary judgment based on, inter alia, Presidential Immunity (July 5, 2024) (Carroll I) at pp. 43-45.
  16. Order denying Trump Rule 59 motion (July 19, 2023) (Carroll II) at p. 36. See also N.Y. Pattern Jury Instr.–Civil 3:30
  17. Celle v. Filipino Reporter Enters. Inc., 209 F.3d 163, 184 (2d Cir. 2000) (“prior or subsequent defamations” and “subsequent statements of the defendant” are relevant to punitive damages for defamation claim (quoting Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 164 n.12, 99 S. Ct. 1635, 1643 n.12 (1979)).