Jussie Smollett’s legal team has presented oral arguments to the Illinois Appeals Court, advocating for the dismissal of his 2019 conviction. The former “Empire” actor was found guilty of masterminding a racist and homophobic assault against himself in Chicago.
The case’s background reveals that Smollett faced 16 felony charges, alleging that he fabricated a hate crime. While these charges were initially dropped, a subsequent indictment and trial emerged. The actor was ultimately convicted on five of the six counts of disorderly conduct in 2021. If the appeal is unsuccessful, Smollett will be mandated to complete the jail sentence decreed by the court.
A pivotal argument in the 76-page appeal posits that Smollett’s 2021 trial infringed upon his Fifth Amendment rights against double jeopardy, which legally safeguards individuals from being penalized for the same offense more than once. The defense contends that Smollett had already fulfilled community service requirements and relinquished a $10,000 bond as part of a 2019 agreement with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, leading to the initial charges being dropped.
Nenye Uche, one of Smollett’s attorneys, has previously asserted that the actor, who identifies as Black and gay, was subjected to a racially biased justice system and political maneuvering. Uche has also criticized the decision by special prosecutor Dan Webb to advocate for new charges in 2020 and labeled the trial judge’s sentence as excessive for a low-level felony.
The appeal further emphasizes that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, under chief prosecutor Kim Foxx, exercised appropriate discretion in dropping the original charges in 2019. The defense warns of a perilous precedent where prosecutors could revisit cases based on dissatisfaction with a colleague’s judgment.
In contrast, the special prosecutor’s 55-page response underscores that the arrangement with Foxx’s office was explicitly structured, preserving the possibility of recharging Smollett without infringing upon double jeopardy protections.
The incident, which took place on a frigid day in Chicago in January 2019, initially portrayed Smollett as a victim of a heinous attack. However, the narrative shifted when authorities posited that Smollett had paid two acquaintances from “Empire” to stage the assault. Allegedly, he instructed them on the slurs to use and even referenced “MAGA Country,” alluding to Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
The appeals court, comprising three judges, is anticipated to deliver its verdict in the coming weeks. As the legal proceedings continue, Smollett maintains his innocence, asserting in a post-jail interview that the attack was genuine and expressing his anguish over the skepticism surrounding his claims.