Image Credit: Chicago Police Department via CNN
Yesterday, a special Cook County grand jury indicted Jussie Smollett, an actor formerly on Fox’s hit television show, “Empire.” This will be the second time that he has faced charges for allegedly staging a hate crime against himself.
As the events that transpired leading to Smollett’s indictment took place over a year ago, a refresher may be helpful. On January 29, 2019, Smollett told Chicago police that he was attacked by two masked men when he was walking home at two o’clock in the morning. He reported that his attackers shouted homophobic and racial slurs, beat him, poured an “unknown chemical substance” on him, and hung a noose around his neck. A couple weeks later, the Chicago Police Department announced that they had identified and questioned two persons of interest captured on a surveillance video close to the scene of the crime.
The CPD quickly discovered that these two “persons of interest,” the Osundairo brothers, were acquaintances of Smollett. In fact, one of the brothers was Smollett’s personal trainer. After being confronted with evidence that they bought the rope allegedly used in the attack, the Osundairo brothers agreed to cooperate with authorities. The Osundairo brothers admitted that they helped Smollett stage the attack after Smollett became upset that Fox did not take seriously enough a letter the studio received that threatened him.
On February 20, 2019, Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false report. On March 8, 2019, the Cook County State Attorney’s office announced that a grand jury indicted the actor on sixteen felony counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.
In a surprising move, prosecutors in Cook County dropped all charges against Smollett on March 26, 2019. In dropping the charges, officials cited the actor’s history of volunteer work, the two days of community service he had performed since his arrest, and his agreement to forfeit his $10,000 bond to the city. Although the charges were dropped, Joe Magats, the first assistant state’s attorney in Cook County, insisted that the decision not be viewed as an exoneration. Smollett has continually maintained his innocence.
Almost exactly a year since the original charges were filed, Smollet has again been indicted for allegedly orchestrating the racist and homophobic attack. A special Cook County grand jury indicted Smollet on six counts of disorderly conduct. The actor is scheduled to be arraigned on the new charges at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on February 24.
In announcing the new indictment, special prosecutor Dan Webb said further prosecution of Smollet was “in the interest of justice.” In a news release, Webb claims “Smollet planned and participated in a staged hate crime attack, and thereafter made numerous false statements to Chicago Police Department officers on multiple occasions, reporting a heinous hate crime that he, in fact, knew had not occurred.”
The legal process for Smollett essentially begins anew. He will be assigned to a judge and must enter a plea. Smollett’s defense team will likely argue that the new charges constitute double jeopardy. However, the success of this argument is doubtful, as this defense is only applicable to persons being prosecuted twice for substantially the same crime. As the original prosecutors dropped the charges against Smollett, the new charges do not constitute double jeopardy. Needless to say, it will be interesting to watch it all unfold.
Liz Costello, University at Buffalo School of Law, Class of 2020. Liz is the Treasurer of the Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Law Society, an Articles Editor of the Buffalo Law Review, and an anticipated associate at Rupp Baase Pfalzgraf Cunningham LLC. Having grown up in Los Angeles with an entertainment attorney mother, Liz is especially interested in the legal issues surrounding music, film, television, and sports. Her favorite activities include going to local live music and sporting events.