Jussie Smollett Indicted
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.
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.
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.
Page Pate is an accomplished trial lawyer with over 25 years of experience in criminal defense, civil litigation, and whistleblower representation. Page is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, Top 100 Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers, and named to the list of Super Lawyers for the past 15 consecutive years. Page is a frequent expert legal analyst for local and national media and has served as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia Law School.