Legal Lens: Jussie Smollett & Illinois Criminal and Civil Law 

Jussie Smollett’s case has been a whirlwind of media and rumors since news broke out about the (now allegedly false) hate crime. Celebrity cases are always an interesting look at the legal system due to the additional coverage the cases get. This celebrity case is different because the developments surrounding the case have been quite the drama, and not in a good way for the actor. We wrote about the recent developments of the case last week and today we’ll be looking more in depth at the legal aspects of this case. We’ll look at the legal rules regarding dropped charges, felony disorderly conduct in Illinois, the civil suit that was brought against the actor by the CPD, and what happened to the two brothers that were allegedly involved in the crime.  

After the initial claims of a hate crime were brought to the attention of the Chicago Police Department in January of 2019, the authorities have alleged that the crimes were all fabricated and staged by the actor himself. The state’s attorney’s office was initially going forward with 16 charges of disorderly conduct against the actor, but the state’s attorney’s office surprisingly decided to drop the charges in March of 2019. The charges were dropped and the case was sealed, per the request of Smollett’s legal team. The actor was fined the $10,000 bail he paid when he was arrested and his community service was taken into account when charges were dropped. Let’s take a look at the legal aspects that have played out in this very public case. 

Sealing Records in Illinois  

  • Since the case against Smollett was initially dropped and he was not charged, his legal team was within their legal rights to request that the case records be sealed. This request was approved by the judge.  
  • However, following a FOIA request by many media outlets and public outrage relating to the lack of transparency, the records were ordered to be unsealed by another Chicago judge. The judge stated that the actor was open to the public regarding his case and cited the actor’s decision to participate in media interviews following the dropped case as reasons why the case records should be unsealed and released to the public.  

Dropped charges in Illinois  

  • Most felony crimes in Illinois carry a 3-year statute of limitation, including disorderly conduct. This means that the state has up to 3 years to bring charges against someone, even after dropping charges.  

Independent Investigation of Criminal Cases: Following the release of court documents of the Smollett case, a judge ruled in favor of an independent investigation into Jussie Smollett’s case. The point of the investigation was to determine the following:  

  1. “1) should Jussie Smollett be further prosecuted for the alleged false reports he made to Chicago Police Department officers, and; 
  2.  2) whether any person or office involved in the Smollett case engaged in wrongdoing, including the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (“CCSAO”) or individuals in that office.” 

Civil Case Against Smollett: The initial decision to drop charges brought about a heated response from many higher-ups in Chicago politics, including Rahm Emanuel, who was still mayor at the time. The mayor and other city officials vowed to make the actor pay for allegedly lying and wasting the valuable time of the CPD.  

  • The city eventually filed a civil suit against the actor seeking “double recovery” of the $130,000 spent by the CPD to investigate the crime, meaning they want a payment of $260,000 for the time and resources spent to investigate the incident. The city is allowed to sue for a repayment of up to 3 times the cost of the investigation per Illinois law.  
  • Jussie Smollett has responded with a countersuit against the City. Smollett’s lawyer cited malicious prosecution, unnecessarily increased investigation resources used by the CPD, and political motives as reasons why the case should be dropped. Smollett’s lawyer stated that the actions of the CPD have caused the actor “humiliation, mental anguish and extreme emotional distress” and states that the actor should not have to pay back the city for the investigation. 

New criminal charges against Smollett in February 2020 – Double Jeopardy?  

  • Following an independent investigation that looked into the case, the state decided to pursue charges against the actor again, but this time the actor was indicted with 6 charges of felony disorderly conduct instead of the 16 counts of his first trial that was dropped.  
  • The actor appeared in court again on Feb 22, 2020 and pleaded not guilty to the six charges of felony disorderly conduct. Initially, Smollett’s lawyer alluded to double jeopardy in the case, but that is not accurate as double jeopardy can only be used as a defense in cases that end with an official ruling. That did not occur with Smollett’s case since the case was never carried out and the charges were instead initially dropped.  

Felony Disorderly Conduct  

  • Felony Disorderly Conduct is a Class 4 felony in Illinois, which comes with 1-3 years of prison time and fines up to $25,000. Class 3 and Class 4 felonies are probationable under Illinois law.  

The Osundairo Brothers 

  • The brothers that were allegedly paid by Smollett to carry out the attack have sued Smollett’s legal team for defamation of character, citing the statements made by Smollet’s attorney to media outlets following their confession to CPD and following the initial decision to drop charges.  
  • The defamation lawsuit was filed with the federal courts system instead of the Cook County District courts following what the Osundairo brothers legal team felt was a mismanagement of the case by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.  
  • The brothers have cooperated with the CPD and have not been charged with any crimes as of yet. The practice of not charging cooperating witnesses involved in an alleged crime is not uncommon.  

While the criminal trial has not yet begun, it is interesting that the civil suit is still in the process of being heard. The main reason the city chose to bring a civil suit against the actor was mainly a response to the initial decision by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to drop the criminal charges against the actor.   

We will continue to report on this case as it develops. If you or a loved one have been charged with disorderly conduct, it is imperative that you hire an attorney. A Class 4 felony is a probationable offense, but granting probation isn’t always guaranteed, so quality legal representation is needed. Give our office a call to see what we can do in your case. 


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Abdallah Law

Abdallah Law has been a successful law firm serving the people of Chicago and the surrounding area for years. This success can be attributed to one thing: Our team. At Abdallah Law, protecting our clients’ rights and safeguarding their liberties is the driving force of everything we do.

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