Jussie Smollett has denied staging his alleged hate crime, but if his side of the story doesn’t hold up, the ramifications could be serious. Criminal defense lawyers predict that the ‘Empire’ actor could be charged with a felony.
UPDATE (3/26/19), 11:35 AM EST: The charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollett — over allegedly staging a racial attack against himself in Chicago on January 29 — have all been dropped, his Chicago-based attorney Ronald Safer confirms to HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY. Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued the following statement (on March 26, 2019 at 1:15 PM EST) in wake of this development: “Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed.”
ORIGINAL: Jussie Smollett, 36, could be charged with a felony and deal with the consequences of such a hefty ruling if he did indeed lie about being attacked on Jan. 29. The Empire actor, who identifies as gay, claimed he was assaulted by two men who flung racial and homophobic slurs at him, put a rope around his neck and then doused him with an “unknown chemical substance.” He has “denied playing a role in his attack,” according to his attorneys’ statement that CNN obtained, but two law enforcement sources told the same outlet that the Chicago Police now believe that Jussie “paid two men to orchestrate an assault on him.” Other outlets like CBS News are being told the same account and now Jussie is “facing prison time and the implosion of his career if it turns out he lied about being the target of a hate crime,” which legal and public relations experts told Variety on Feb. 19.
“It’s a very, very, very serious situation,” Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor that currently works in criminal defense in Chicago, told Variety. “He’s got some very significant exposure.” Jussie could even be charged with a mail fraud charge if the hateful letter sent to himself a week before the attack was fake, legal experts also told the website. We got our own expert source to speak on the matter.
Andrew Weisberg, former prosecutor and current criminal defense lawyer at the Law Offices of Andrew M. Weisberg, EXCLUSIVELY spoke to HollywoodLife on what Jussie faces if those stories prove true (so far, nothing has been confirmed). “If it is determined that a person lied to police about a crime that was committed, they could be charged with a Class 4 Felony ‘Disorderly conduct,'” Weisberg revealed to HollywoodLife. This reiterated what Variety also claimed. “This is charged where a person reports to police that an offense took place when they knew at the time of the report that no crimes was actually committed,” Weisberg explained. It’s a serious charge, as it “carries a possibility of one to three years in prison,” coupled with a “fine up to $25,000,” the lawyer said. “A person with a clean record would likely receive a period of probation and may have to pay for the cost of the investigation.”
However, a troubling spot on Jussie’s record has been identified by NBC News. The outlet found that the actor “pleaded no contest to DUI, driving without a license and providing false information to law enforcement” in 2007, which the L.A. City Attorney’s office confirmed and was reported on Feb. 19. But as for the current issue at hand, the Chicago Police Department have yet to confirm or deny that Jussie staged his alleged attack. “The police would not want to jump to a conclusion that a possible victim actually set up a hoax or lied about being attacked,” Weisberg continued. “The police would obviously look at the story of the alleged victim and see if anything can be corroborated. At some point if the police doubt the account of the alleged victim, they would confront them with the idea that the story is false. Most people end up confessing.”
As reports surface that Jussie allegedly paid his attackers, the two men “could also be charged with felony disorderly conduct” if they admit to participating in the “hoax,” the attorney said. So far, two Nigerian brothers were arrested on Feb. 13 but were released two days later without charges. They were identified as Abel and Ola Osundairo, the latter of which appeared on Empire, and are now cooperating with police, according to CBS News.
Our legal source made sure to clarify that he has only read information online and has no professional or personal connections to the case. While Jussie’s legal fate is still up in the air, his future on Empire has reportedly been decided…as for this week. As Jussie is still being investigated, his scenes on the Fox show are “being slashed for production” this week, according to Deadline’s report on Feb. 19.