CHICAGO — A Cook County judge on Friday shot down actor Jussie Smollett’s attempt have the criminal charges against him dropped, telling the actor that the new charges against him do not violate his right against double jeopardy.
Smollett’s attorneys made the double jeopardy argument after a special prosecutor secured a six-count indictment on charges alleging that he lied to police about a racist and anti-gay attack that police say he staged himself. The new case came months after the county’s state’s attorney’s office abruptly announced it was dropping charges against the actor, angering police and City Hall.
The way Judge James Linn saw it, the only way double jeopardy would apply is if Smollett was legally punished for what had happened to him since he was charged in connection with the January 2019 incident in downtown Chicago. But Linn determined that the deal in which the state’s attorney’s office agreed to drop charges without requiring Smollett to admit any wrongdoing and Smollett agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond did not add up to legal punishment.
“There was no trial in this case, there was no jury empaneled, no witnesses were sworn, no evidence was heard, no guilty pleas were ever entered … nothing like that every happened,” Linn said of the 2019 case. “There was no adjudication of this case.”
Smollett contends that early on Jan. 29, 2019, he was walking home when two masked men approached him, made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He said his assailants, at least one of whom he described as white, told him he was in “MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Weeks later, the story that already received international media attention took a shocking twist when police alleged that Smollett, who is black and openly gay, had paid two black friends $3,500 to help him stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary as an actor on “Empire,” a Fox series about that follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry. Smollett was accused of using the scheme to drum up publicity for his career.
Months after local prosecutors made their stunning announcement that they were dropping charges, a judge last August appointed Dan Webb, a former U.S. attorney, to look into why those original charges were dropped.
Smollett was indicted again in February. He has maintained his innocence.
It was not immediately clear when Smollett might stand trial. At the same time, Smollett is battling a lawsuit filed by the city seeking more than $130,000 for overtime paid to officers who were involved in investigating his report.