Jussie Smollett sentencing: Legal experts weigh in after actor learns fate

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Jussie Smollett learned his fate Thursday after a judge delivered the terms of his sentence following a contentious four hours in a Chicago courtroom.

Mere minutes after being ordered into custody to begin serving 150 days in jail, the actor addressed the court one last time – despite the fact he said prior to having his sentence read that he had nothing to say.

The former “Empire” star, 39, stood up and affirmed his innocence in a passionate declaration to Cook County Judge James Linn, saying, “I’m not suicidal.”

“I respect you, your honor,” Smollett said as he placed his hands together in a gesture toward the bench. “I respect your decision. Jail time? I am not suicidal. … If anything happens to me in there I did not do it to myself!”

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Smollett was then surrounded by sheriff’s deputies before he was led away from the courtroom – but not before raising his right fist in the air on the way out.

In addition to the jail time, Linn also sentenced Smollett to 30 months of felony probation. Smollett was also ordered to pay $120,106 in restitution to the city of Chicago.

Best deal available?

Following the sentencing, Ally F. Keegan – a criminal defense attorney at the San Diego-based Law Office of David P. Shapiro, who is not involved in the case – told Fox News Digital that she believes the sentence handed to Smollett is fair given the nature of the crime and actions that went into planning and carrying it out.

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“Judge James Linn noted he had two sentencing options: either a probationary period with up to 180 days in jail, or up to three years in prison,” Keegan explained, adding that Smollett received the best deal available to him.

Actor Jussie Smollett appears with his attorneys at his sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Chicago.
(Associated Press)

“From behind a plexiglass barrier and next to a diet cranberry juice, the judge recounted the numerous factors he believed made the case reprehensible: that Smollett had planned the hoax so meticulously, the negative impact it could have on real victims of hate crimes, the waste of law enforcement time and resources to investigate it, and Smollett’s own testimony that the judge said ‘can only be described as pure perjury.’

“The sentence can be justified by Smollett’s lack of prior criminal history and other mitigation filed by his attorneys, particularly letters of support from prominent social justice and community leaders,” Keegan continued. “As he was brought into custody to begin his sentence, Smollett shouted that he is innocent but not suicidal, so any harm that may come to him while in custody will not be self-inflicted.”

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“While the next step in the legal process may be an appeal, Smollett must also face the court of public opinion moving forward; in pursuing his acting career or anything else,” she added.

Pulled out all the stops

During Smollett’s sentencing hearing, the defense team for the singer-songwriter pulled out all the stops in their concerted efforts to first have the jury overturn Smollett’s conviction, then for the judge to grant Smollett a new trial and later in their attempt to mitigate possible jail time down to none.

Defense counsel team member Tina Glandian alleged a number of “flagrant errors” that she argued worked against Smollett during his trial.

She maintained that Smollett’s rights were violated and also brought up the idea that “the charges should have been dismissed” given the fact that the Smollett case was initially dismissed and Smollett was assigned community service and forfeited $10,000.

“At the end of the day a deal is a deal and the case should have been dismissed because of this,” Glandian argued Thursday, maintaining in earnest that, “We think the jury selection process was flawed.”

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“Anyone looking at this jury could tell it was not a jury of Mr. Smollett’s peers in Chicago,” she said in defense of the actor and singer.

‘Harsh’ probationary period

Contrary to Keegan’s stance on the fairness of Smollett’s sentence, Rachel Fiset, a white-collar criminal defense attorney and managing partner of Zweiback, Fiset & Coleman – who is also an onlooker to the Smollett proceedings and not involved – relayed to Fox News Digital that the felony probationary period of 30 months seems a bit “harsh” even with the judge’s justification of the ruling.

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“The judge gave a lengthy explanation of his reasoning behind his determination of this sentence. The sentence provides for approximately five months in jail, which is significantly less than the maximum, but a fairly harsh 30 months of probation supervised by the court,” Fiset explained. “The probation, however, allows for Smollett to travel freely and ‘call-in’ to report on his status – which greatly lessens the impact of the term of probation. Overall, I believe this sentence fairly reflects the severity of the crimes of which Smollett was convicted.”

Court testimony on behalf of Smollett came mainly from people from the performer’s personal life, who spoke out in support of his character and charity efforts.

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The actor’s older brother, Jojo Smollett, pleaded to the court that his brother had already dealt with enough punishment by having his “Empire” role “ripped away from him before he was even charged.” He also spoke of the “anxiety” that Smollett had already suffered along with the “pseudo house arrest” he has since been on in the midst of his trial.

Smollett’s grandmother, Molly Smollett, 92, also took the witness stand and admonished the media while challenging journalists to do better investigative reporting.

In December, Smollett was convicted in a trial that included the testimony of two brothers who told jurors Smollett paid them to carry out the attack, gave them money for the ski masks and rope, and instructed them to fashion the rope into a noose.

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Prosecutors said Smollett told the brothers what racist and homophobic slurs to shout, and to yell that Smollett was in “MAGA Country,” a reference to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Smollett faced up to three years in prison for each of the five felony counts of disorderly conduct — the charge filed for lying to police — of which he was convicted. He was acquitted on a sixth count.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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