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Trial of Mar-a-Lago intruder pushed to September

Sarah Blaskey, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- The Chinese woman arrested in March trying to enter Mar-a-Lago with a trove of electronics appeared in federal court in Fort Lauderdale briefly Tuesday, where a judge accused her of being intentionally difficult when she refused to answer his questions out loud.

"The defendant has decided that she wants to play games with the court," said U.S. District Judge Roy Altman. On several occasions Altman was forced to describe Zhang's nods or smiles into the record when she refused to answer.

Zhang, 33, was indicted on charges of trespassing and lying to a federal agent, charges that carry maximum sentences of one and five years respectively. She pleaded not guilty.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Rolando Garcia told the court that federal prosecutors were prepared to go to trial against Zhang next week. However, Zhang, who has been representing herself since firing her public defenders on June 11, did not realize she had to file documents such as jury instructions and an evidence list by Tuesday's deadline. As a result, Altman pushed back the date in order to give her time to file.

The trial is now scheduled for Sept. 3. Garcia predicted the trial could last up to four days.

There will be another hearing next week to consider whether Zhang wants to waive her right to a jury trial, a move suggested by the federal prosecutors. While non-jury trials are common in civil cases, it would be highly unusual in a criminal case.

 

"Maybe I don't need that many people to make that decision. I don't know," Zhang said but suggested she was dizzy and not in the correct state of mind to make the decision until a future date.

If Zhang chooses to waive her right to a jury trial, her case would be decided by Altman.

Zhang, 33, was arrested by federal agents on March 30 at a security checkpoint at the entrance of Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump's private South Florida club.

Although Zhang has not been charged under the Espionage Act, federal prosecutors have filed secret evidence -- evidence considered "classified" under the Classified Information Procedures Act -- indicating authorities have information pertaining to Zhang's case that has significant national security implications.

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