The criminal trial against Empire actor Jussie Smollett begins today in Cook County court in Chicago. The trial will start with jury selection, and Smollett has already arrived at court. He is accused of planning and staging a hate crime against himself in 2019 and filing four separate false reports to the Chicago Police Department, and he’s facing six criminal charges of disorderly conduct. According to CNN, no cameras will be permitted in court. The bizarre case revolves around an incident in January 2019, when Smollett claimed he was attacked in Chicago by two white men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs, tied a noose around his neck, and doused him with an unidentified substance that Smollett said was bleach. After national media coverage and a month of police investigations, the Chicago PD stated that the assault was planned by Smollett and that he paid the attackers to rehearse and stage the incident. These findings were confirmed by phone records and video footage. That March, Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts by grand jury for staging the hoax. He pleaded not guilty, and prosecution suddenly dropped all charges.
In June 2019, Cook County approved a special prosecutor to investigate the handling of the Smollett case. Their findings led to another grand-jury indictment of Smollett, this time on six counts in February 2020. There were delays in the case due to the aforementioned dropped charges and special investigations as well as the coronavirus pandemic, but according to The Wall Street Journal a court official says the trial “could be completed within days.” Chicago criminal-defense attorney Darryl Goldberg, who is uninvolved with the case, told the WSJ that the defense will most likely try to give alternate explanations for Smollett’s payments to his two fake “attackers”; in 2019, Smollett’s attorney claimed that his payments to them were for personal training. Goldberg also predicts that Smollett will probably be sentenced to probation and not serve any time in prison if the jury finds him guilty.
In addition to criminal charges, the City of Chicago has filed civil litigation against Smollett for the costs and resources expended in response to his staged attack. This civil suit is stalled in federal district court pending the criminal trial. Smollett continues to stand by his story.