Trump, Facing the Fight of His Life, Could Get 20 Years in Prison

The former president faces a hefty sentence, potentially the rest of his life, if he loses his criminal case in Miami.
Former US President Donald Trump waves as he plays golf at the Trump Turnberry Golf Courses, in Turnberry on the west coast of Scotland on May 2, 2023, during the second day of his first visit to the country since losing the Presidency.  (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

What kind of prison sentence would former President Donald Trump get if he’s convicted in the Espionage Act case against him in Miami, Florida? 

It depends. But the short answer is perhaps about 20 years, give or take a decade, according to one former national security prosecutor who crunched the numbers. 

To be more precise, Trump may face between 17-and-a-half and 22 years for just the criminal counts related to willfully retaining national security documents, based on a careful review of the charges and federal sentencing guidelines performed by former federal prosecutor David Aaron. Trump could also be sentenced to another seven-and-one-quarter to nine years for the other counts in the indictment, including obstruction of justice. 


Those two sentences could run concurrently, however, meaning that the longer sentence might be the only one that really matters. 

Nobody knows, though. There’s simply no historic precedent for charging a former U.S.president with crimes of any kind, let alone the kind of serious felonies brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith against Trump last week. 

Trump was charged with 37 criminal counts for allegedly stashing highly sensitive military and intelligence files in his Mar-a-Lago beachfront estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and  conniving to stop the government from getting them back. The unprecedented nature of the titanic legal battle now set to play out in Miami means no one can be confident what will happen—even if Trump is convicted.  

Still, the 20 years-ish range provides a glimpse of the sheer magnitude of danger Trump is facing. Put simply: He’s in deep trouble. At 76 years old, Trump is staring down the possibility of a criminal sentence that could send him to some form of incarceration for the rest of his natural life, if he loses this case.  

Trump is due to be booked and arraigned in a Miami federal courthouse on Tuesday, where he is expected to plead not guilty. 

Two Decades in the Big House? 

If Trump were found guilty of all 37 counts and convicted to the absolute statutory maximum on each count, with the sentences stacked back-to-back, he could hypothetically be looking at more than 300 years in prison. 

But that’s not how federal criminal sentencing works — so there is simply no way he’s getting a three-century-long sentence. Instead, the process involves a complex tabulation of many factors, including the alleged crimes, the perpetrator’s criminal history, whether the defendant accepts guilt, the history of criminal sentences for similar acts, and whether the accused was the mastermind of the crimes or just a low-level follower. 


Those details are used to calculate a possible sentence range — which, ultimately, isn’t mandatory. The sentencing judge is supposed to take it under advisement, and then make a judgement call. The judge typically has a lot of leeway to move outside the range. And the historic nature of the case means the judge could try to send a message, one way or the other. 

In Florida, it’s possible Trump’s judge could save his bacon. Trump’s criminal case in Miami will be handled by Judge Aileen Cannon, who has a history of turning somersaults for Trump’s benefit. Judge Cannon oversaw a civil legal battle between Trump and the Department of Justice over the same documents involved in his criminal trial last year. Back then, she issued controversial and legally-dubious decisions that helped Trump, prompting widespread suspicion that the longtime member of the conservative Federalist Society may be in the tank for the former president. 

There’s another complicating factor: Imprisoning Trump would be enormously complicated. Many legal experts say an ex-commander-in-chief could not realistically be expected to join the general population in a federal penitentiary, given the security risks. After all, the guy once had the nuclear launch codes. 

Some legal experts expect that if Trump were found guilty, he might be sentenced to some kind of home confinement, or possibly a special facility designated just for him. 

If Trump actually wins the 2024 presidential election, he could even attempt to pardon himself for any federal crimes, even before he is convicted at trial — although Constitutional scholars say it’s unclear whether he could actually pull that off, legally speaking.