Jussie Smollett hoax charges dropped, but federal investigation, lawsuits could be next

Jussie Smollett may have had the criminal charges related to his alleged staged hate crime dropped, but the "Empire" star may still face both federal charges and civil lawsuits in connection to the scandal.

On Tuesday, the Cook County State's Attorney dropped 16 felony counts against the actor stemming from his allegedly false police report about a hate attack he claimed to have suffered on Jan. 29.

Though he escaped criminal charges, the legal fallout may not be over for Smollett.

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Former Cook County prosecutor-turned-criminal-defense-attorney Andrew Weisberg told Fox News on Wednesday that Smollett's case is unusual for several reasons — most notably the speed at which his charges were dismissed. Smollett was indicted on March 8 and his charges were dismissed on March 26.

"It was such a quick turnaround. Pretrial diversions are usually a year long, and this happened so quickly," Weisberg said, adding that he suspects the case's notoriety accelerated the proceedings.

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Weisberg, who was working in the courthouse the day the dismissal was announced, was baffled by the proceedings. "I figured they had a plea agreement and I was shocked when I heard the dismissal," he admitted. "I can't figure it out. I don't think it's anything corrupt or anything terrible — but it's an unusually great outcome for [Smollett]."

Weisberg explained that in a best-case scenario for similar false police report cases that he's worked on, the defendant will get deferred prosecution, but that it's still somewhat rare because of the amount of work police put in to investigate claims. In most cases, he said, a defendant may be sentenced to probation and have to pay restitution to the cover city's estimated expenses.

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In one similar case he recently worked on, Weisberg said that police told prosecutors they put in too much work to drop the charges and that the city estimated the expenses to investigate the false claim amounted to about $8,400 for three detectives in a single day's work. "In [Smollett's] case, they put in 10 times the work. This would cost [the city] hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars."

Weisberg said that the repercussions of the dismissal will reverberate throughout Cook County going forward, noting, "A lot of criminal defense lawyers are the ones who will bring this [case] up and ask for similar treatment."

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Smollett also may face federal charges of mail fraud, as the FBI is investigating whether or not he also sent himself hate mail laced with white powder a week before the alleged attack occurred. If convicted, Smollett could face up to a decade in prison.

Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano previously said that dropping charges in a case like this is "almost unheard of" and offered two possible explanations for alternatives: "Either because the government could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt notwithstanding the evidence it has, or because it decided to grant Smollett what's called a 'deferred prosecution,' which means a short period of probation, at the end of which the charges would be dismissed." A deferred prosecution would also expunge Smollett's record at the end of the probationary period.

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On Wednesday, Napolitano said on "Varney & Co." that due to Smollett's expungement, he can now legally say under oath that he was never indicted for the alleged crime and that if a judge's mind were to be changed about the case, its records could be unsealed.

However, Smollett could never be charged in relation to the alleged hoax ever again due to the language of the nolle pros ruling, Weisberg said.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also considering suing the actor to recoup some of the money the city wasted on the lengthy investigation, according to reports, though Weisberg thinks that is unlikely to actually happen because the city would have to re-litigate the entire case in civil court.

Smollett's attorney, Patricia Brown-Holmes, said in a press conference Tuesday that it was not a deferred prosecution and that the records in the case were sealed.

Smollett, 36, told police he was attacked by two masked men as he was walking home from a Chicago Subway sandwich shop at approximately 2 a.m. Smollett alleged that the masked men beat him, taunted him with homophobic and racial slurs and yelled: "This is MAGA country."

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Police later determined that Smollett's masked assailants were brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, who authorities also identified as being the men seen on surveillance video purchasing the rope that was hung around Smollett's neck during the alleged attack. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told the press at the time that the brothers were cooperating with authorities and the investigation was pivoting from a hate crime investigation into a case of false reporting, transforming Smollett from an alleged victim in the case into a suspect.

Smollett pleaded not guilty and maintained his innocence throughout the case.

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After news of Smollett's dropped charges, First Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Magats told the press that he still believes Smollett filed a false police report and that prosecutors in the case "stand behind the investigation and the facts ... this was not an exoneration."

Smollett reportedly performed community service and voluntarily forfeited his $10,000 bond, Magats said, making it a "fair and just outcome" for the case — even though that outcome infuriated the Chicago police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.