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Jussie Smollett Indicted

Pate & Johnson has represented many people in the State of Georgia who have been charged with serious felonies. When these types of cases appear in the news, sometimes involving high profile individuals, Attorney Page Pate is contacted by the media to discuss the charges.

In this case, Jussie Smollett, an actor, was charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, following his claim that he was a victim of a racist and homophobic assault while he was walking down the street. Mr. Smollett is accused of making up the story about his attack.

CNN interviewed Page for an analysis of the charges brought against Mr. Smollett. Page is asked for his thoughts on Mr. Smollett being charged 16 times for the same crime (one count for each time Mr. Smollett repeated the alleged lie). Page does not think this is a typical approach to charging a person and explains that “There’s really one crime here, if there’s a crime at all, and that’s the false report of a crime. No matter how many different details you give, it’s really one offense. It’s a felony under Illinois law, but it’s not 16 different crimes. I think they did that, though, to send a message. Because remember how much effort, how much money, how much time was spent by law enforcement to investigate what may very well have not been a crime at all.” Page further explains that he doesn’t think this approach is “overkill” because “…the way they charge the crime is different than the way the case may play out in court. Because at the end of the day, if the case does go to trial, the prosecutor is gonna put on the same evidence. He came to us, he gave us this story, we found out it was not true. So the fact he’s charged with 16 different counts is not going to affect the evidence and it’s not going to affect the ultimate sentence.”

When Page is asked for his opinion on whether Mr. Smollett could also be charged in federal court for mailing a death threat letter to himself, Page says that he does not think so, and that he does “believe the FBI was involved in investigating what may have been the false report of a crime” and that “at the end of the day, you rarely see two different jurisdictions, federal and state, prosecuting the same offense. So, it’s likely the federal government, the U.S. Attorney’s office, may have looked at the case, but then decided to pass on it, let the state folks handle it.”

The charges against Mr. Smollett were ultimately dropped and his record was wiped clean. He forfeited the $10,000 bond that he posted when he was first arrested. The City of Chicago later demanded that Mr. Smollett pay over $100,000 to cover the costs associated with the investigation of the alleged attack against him and have filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Smollett to recover those costs. We will continue to follow the civil case.

TRANSCRIPT:

Victor: All right, let’s discuss. With us now is criminal defense attorney Page Pate. Page, welcome back.

Page: Thank you.

Victor: Let’s start here with the 16 counts. One for, as Nick said there, each time he told this lie.

Page: Right.

Victor: Is that typical?

Page: No, it’s not typical. There’s really one crime here, if there’s a crime at all, and that’s the false report of a crime. No matter how many different details you give, it’s really one offense. It’s a felony under Illinois law, but it’s not 16 different crimes. I think they did that, though, to send a message. Because remember how much effort, how much money, how much time was spent by law enforcement to investigate what may very well have not been a crime at all.

Victor: Let’s listen to Smollett’s defense attorney here, Mark Geragos, also a CNN contributor. Let’s watch.

Geragos: What is happening here is, frankly, a media gang bang of this guy, of unprecedented proportions. And that’s the reason I got into this. I’ve never seen a media pendulum swing more quickly and more viciously and rob somebody of their presumption of innocence like this case. It’s startling the way people assume that he’s guilty.

Victor: Now, you said that the 16 counts, 1 for each lie, is not typical.

Page: No.

Victor: Is it, as Geragos says, overkill, overreach?

Page: I don’t think so. Because the way they charge the crime is different than the way the case may play out in court. Because at the end of the day, if the case does go to trial, the prosecutor is gonna put on the same evidence. He came to us, he gave us this story, we found out it was not true. So the fact he’s charged with 16 different counts is not going to affect the evidence and it’s not going to affect the ultimate sentence.

Victor: So let’s talk about evidence here. Do you expect that this will go to trial, considering all of the exposure through disclosure that Smollett could face, or is this looking like a plea deal, potentially?

Page: Well, it sounds like his lawyer, at this point, does not have all the evidence. I mean, he was on CNN saying, “We haven’t seen the discovery materials. I don’t have, you know, the backup for the checks. We haven’t talked to the folks at Empire.” So I think once they see the evidence, they’ll be in a much better position to decide if it’s something they have to resolve or if it’s something that goes to trial. But if, at the end of the day, the point here is to get media attention and media coverage, then we may see this play out all the way through a jury trial.

Victor: Now, considering, you know…you’re saying that this is potentially trying to make a point here, a statement, an example through Smollett, would you expect then federal charges, considering he’s accused of having mailed that letter, that death threat, to himself?

Page: I don’t think so. I do believe the FBI was involved in investigating what may have been the false report of a crime. But at the end of the day, you rarely see two different jurisdictions, federal and state, prosecuting the same offense. So, it’s likely the federal government, the U.S. Attorney’s office, may have looked at the case, but then decided to pass on it, let the state folks handle it.

Victor: What’s the impact here of, you know, people wake up and see these 16 charges? It’s been a few days, unrelated case, but the conversation before this was about Paul Manafort getting fewer than four years for the crimes for which he was convicted. Does this make him, potentially, a sympathetic character, considering he absolutely was not up to this point?

Page: Well, that’s a good point and there’s always that possibility. But, I mean, think about what he did if, in fact, he committed this crime. I mean, he diverted resources, scarce resources that could have been used to investigate serious violent crimes that go on in Chicago all the time. And I think law enforcement and the prosecutor here, they feel they need to send a message.

“Look, you’re gonna come to us. You’re gonna rely on our investigative work, our time, our money, our effort, you better be reporting something real.” And so, I think there is a need here to send that message, because with today’s media and social media, the way things can ramp up so quickly, people can get in trouble for something they never did.

Victor: All right. We’ll see what happens next. Page Pate, thanks so much.

Page: Thank you, Victor.

Victor: All right. Chris.