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As you’ve likely heard by now, all charges against former Empire Star Jussie Smollett were dropped by Cook County prosecutors in a Chicago criminal courtroom yesterday. You’ve probably heard the facts, however, just in case, here’s an article from yesterday to get you caught up to speed: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/arts/television/jussie-smollett-charges-dropped.html

I want to discuss what we learned today and why I am feeling pissed, angered, livid, upset and/or frustrated. During an interview with First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Joseph Magats, who lead the investigation, he said “I do not believe he (Smollett) is innocent.” In explaining why they dropped charges, Magats said, “Based on all the facts and circumstances, based on his life and criminal background. I mean, we defer and do alternative prosecutions. In the last two years, we’ve done 5,700 other felony cases.” What he didn’t say was that they had any problems with proving their case. So why the heck did Smollett get the deal of the century?

To Mr. Magats, I passionately state in response, “THIS ISN’T YOUR TYPICAL CASE, MR. MAGATS!!!!!! There is nothing typical or average or ordinary about this case Mr. Magats!!!! MR. MAGATS, THE CHARGES IN THIS CASE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN DROPPED!!!!!!! YOU SCREWED UP, SIR!!!”

INTRODUCTION

It’s New Year’s Eve. You’re driving along the highway feeling wonderful. Then it happens. You look in your rear view mirror and see flashing police lights. Your heart starts pumping faster as you quickly pull over, trying to determine why Officer Friendly wants to have this encounter. The officer who approaches your car will later inform you that he stopped you for having dark window tint. Before that, he approaches your car and sees a large open plastic bag. He immediately seizes it believing it contains drugs. You immediately inform the officer that the blue substance is cotton candy. The cop thinks it’s Methamphetamine, also known as “Meth” and/or “Crystal Meth”. Can you be arrested under these circumstances?

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

You’re driving in your car somewhere in Broward County, Florida and Officer (Un)Friendly stops you. He alleges that you violated some traffic infraction. Let’s say he claims you were speeding. Then, he alleges he has probable cause to believe you committed a criminal offense, let’s say drunk driving (DUI). He then points to your cell phone that’s charging in your vehicle. He says, “I’d like to look through that.” For some reason, you say, “Sure, you seem nice and I have nothing to hide.” He then takes hold of your phone and attempts to look through it. At that moment, I happen to drive up to the scene. After you explain to me what occurred up to that point, I passionately provide you with some legal advice. Based on that, you say to the officer, I want my phone back. He fires back with, “I’m not giving your phone back until you give me the passcode to your phone so I can see what is in there.” Do you legally have to give him your passcode under these circumstances?

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

At 4:20 pm, on a warm South Florida evening, a trooper stops a vehicle driven by Mary Wanna. Her vehicle had a broken tail light. When the trooper approaches, he smells the odor of marijuana emanating from inside the vehicle. Mary appears to be lethargic and has the odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from her breath. Her eyes are glossy and bloodshot and her movements are slow. The trooper asks the driver if she has been drinking. The driver responds, “No, not recently.” The trooper requests that the driver exit her vehicle. Mary slowly exits and seems to have difficulty standing without swaying. The trooper requests that she perform some “field sobriety exercises,” (also known as “roadside tests”). The trooper concludes that Mary “failed each and every test given.” He places her under arrest for DUI (Driving Under The Influence). Back at the station, Mary is asked to blow into the breath machine and blows a .000, indicating that no alcohol is present in her system. The officer then requests that Mary provide a urine sample. Several weeks later, the lab report is made available and it reveals the presence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Can prosecutors prove their case?

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke: “A guy with a Trump hat walks into a bar and…” It’s not a joke. It actually happened in New York City in January 2017 and the guy, Greg Piatek, was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. An employee at “The Happiest Hour” bar allegedly provided Piatek with poor service. After complaining to bar staff, one employee allegedly told him, “Anyone who supports Trump-or believes in what you believe-is not welcome here! And you need to leave right now because we won’t serve you!” Piatek then sued the bar, alleging discrimination. Was the bar’s conduct illegal?

ANALYSIS

WHAT HAPPENED?

By now, you’ve heard the “King of Pudding” was convicted of three felony rape counts. His first trial ended in a hung jury. That means that jurors couldn’t agree to a unanimous verdict. So what changed from the first to the second trial that led to his conviction? It’s a simple formula: 5 is better than 2…as in 5 victims testifying for the prosecution is better than only two victims. For reasons the judge failed to articulate, he allowed five of Cosby’s prior rape victims to testify in the second trial while previously only allowing two. That certainly aided the prosecutions’ efforts of tipping the scales of evidence to “proof beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.”

As persuasive as the five testifying victims were, what jurors found equally, if not more compelling, were Cosby’s own words. No, he didn’t take the witness stand. That was a good strategic decision as he would have been obliterated on cross examination. His words were those he spoke to civil lawyers in a prior civil suit. In that deposition, which was read to jurors, Cosby admitted under oath a number of disturbing things, which jurors found to be proof of guilt. The most compelling admission was his use of Quaaludes which he liked to provide to young women in order to induce them to have sex with him. He gave them out to women like non rapists give out drinks to their dates. He also admitted that he went to great lengths to conceal these affairs from his wife, who he calls, “Mrs. Cosby.”

INTRODUCTION

Based upon what happened in a bond hearing today in Broward criminal court, you would have thought that prosecutors uncovered evidence proving that Zachary Cruz, brother of Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter Nikolas Cruz, actually conspired with, and assisted his brother carry out his abhorrent crimes. Well, that didn’t happen. In case you haven’t heard, Zachary Cruz, who is the 18-year-old younger brother of shooter Nikolas Cruz, was arrested yesterday for trespassing at Stoneman Douglas High School. At his bond hearing today, prosecutor Sarahnell Murphy passionately requested that Judge Kim Mollica raise his bond for the misdemeanor charge from the standard amount of $25.00 to $750,000. While the judge didn’t go along with the State’s request, she did impose a bond in the amount of $500,000, along with many other significant additional non-monetary bond conditions. After today’s bond hearing, many are asking the question, “Was the $500,000 bond imposed for Nikolas Cruz justified?”

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

The irony is that the Florida International University pedestrian bridge that collapsed last week was built with the intention that it would provide students a safer way to cross a canal and six lanes of traffic. It didn’t quite work out that way. As a result of the catastrophe, six people tragically lost their lives. Many investigations are currently underway to determine the cause of the collapse. Regardless of the cause, there will definitely be a number of civil suits filed, likely soon. The question that many are asking is, “How likely are criminal charges?”

ANALYSIS

INTRODUCTION

For years, one of the arguments that we’ve heard about cigarettes is that they are filled with nicotine, which is addictive, which causes health problems and even death. That argument has been successfully made in lawsuits against “Big Tobacco,” the companies responsible for putting those “cancer sticks” into the stream of commerce. The argument is that those companies knew, or should have known, that their product would cause harm, and thus, they have to pay. A similar argument has been made against the companies that manufacture harmful asbestos. Would that same argument likely work against gun manufacturers? The argument being, “You knew, or should have known, that your product would end up in the hands of a shooter like Nicolas Cruz and that it was reasonably foreseeable that he would use your product for a criminal act. Thus, you should have to pay damages to the many that were harmed.”

ANALYSIS

The jury had been deliberating several hours and I was getting a little nervous. I take great pride in persuading jurors during closing arguments that if they have any reasonable doubt about my client’s guilt, then there’s no reason to go into the jury room and spend hours debating. Just come back with a verdict of Not Guilty. I call it “The Five-Minute Verdict.” I explain that since the presumption of innocence applies and that the prosecutors hadn’t proven their case at any time, then jurors shouldn’t spend more than five minutes coming back with a not guilty verdict. Obviously that ploy hadn’t worked this time.

This was a federal case tried in Miami federal court. Like all my cases, I had put my heart and soul into this one. Many months of preparation went into this trial. I was determined to acquit my client who was charged with several very serious federal criminal offenses.

The edgy waiting was suddenly broken when a bailiff came in bearing a note for the judge from the foreperson of the jury. (Used to be called “foreman”) The foreperson, selected by fellow jurors, is the person who leads the jury deliberations and announces the verdict. Usually the foreperson is selected because of his or her dress and demeanor and thus is often considered the smartest or most sophisticated of the jurors. A note to the judge from the foreperson can often send a powerful signal about which way the jury is leaning, so we were all keyed up to learn the contents. The judge came out of chambers, took her place on the bench and sat examining the piece of paper for what seemed like an unusually long time. Then she smiled and beckoned the attorneys to come forward. She passed us the note. Here is what it said in its entirety in the exact spelling that was used: “What dose unanimous mean?”