Top Chicago Prosecutor Kim Foxx Discusses Decision In Jussie Smollett Case
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
There is still a lot of head scratching over what happened in the case of Jussie Smollett. He's the actor who was indicted on 16 felony counts. He was charged with filing a false police report, saying he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack. And then suddenly yesterday, prosecutors in Cook County, Ill., dropped all the charges. In a statement, they said it was in return for Smollett's agreement to do community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond.
For more on that decision, we are joined now by Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx. Welcome.
KIM FOXX: Thank you for having me.
CHANG: So the statement from your office yesterday said, quote, "we did not exonerate Mr. Smollett." But you dropped all the charges against him, so do you or don't you believe that he committed the crimes he was charged with?
FOXX: So in order for us to offer Mr. Smollett the opportunity to have conditions in exchange for dropping charges, we have to believe that he committed that - a crime.
FOXX: It is my ethical obligation to not ask someone to do something in condition if I don't believe that they didn't commit a crime. So yes, we believe that the case was a sufficient case for us to prosecute should we have decided to do so.
CHANG: OK, so this move to drop all the charges was not connected to any new evidence that changed your understanding of the facts in the case. Is that what you're saying?
FOXX: Yes. And when I'm speaking, I'm speaking of the office 'cause as you know - and I don't know if we'll get to it. I was recused...
CHANG: That's correct.
FOXX: ...From the case. But no, I had nothing to do with the strength of the case. I think what most people don't understand is we have an ethical obligation to only proceed in cases in courts where we believe that we have the evidence to meet our burden. In this case, it was part of an alternative prosecution program, a diversion...
FOXX: ...If you will. We cannot offer a diversion remedy to someone that we believe is not guilty.
CHANG: Your office - you've used the phrase alternative prosecution, but a lot of people take issue with the use of that phrase because...
CHANG: ...In most alternative prosecutions, the defendant agrees to community service or drug treatment. The defendant accepts responsibility for what he or she has done, and then the charges get dropped. That is not what happened here with Jussie Smollett. He did 16 hours of community service earlier this week. He forfeited his $10,000 bond. And then he had his charges dropped. How is this alternative prosecution?
FOXX: Well, I want to be clear. There is an umbrella of things that fall under alternative prosecution. The statute does allow for people to participate in restitution - so the $10,000, which is the maximum allowed under the statute. It does allow them to do community service without having to acknowledge guilt. For some, the admission of guilt and having that on the record incentivizes them to do those other things that you talked about, whether it was community service or restitution. The statute allows us to choose how we want to proceed on that.
CHANG: Now, yesterday Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had some pretty harsh words about this decision. He called it a whitewash of justice and suggested that it sent the message that there are two sets of rules, one for celebrities and the wealthy and one for everyone else. Does it concern you that people might have that impression of what happened here?
FOXX: It does concern me because what happened yesterday was the rules that we have for everyone else - the 5,700 people who participated on alternative prosecutions - were the same things that we made available to Mr. Smollett. I mean, I think the question that Jussie Smollett will have to answer is - he paid the $10,000 which we consider to be restitution. He did the community service - but will linger with him whether he was - had done this or been found not guilty by a judge or guilty, answering for what he had done. And that will last longer than this court case or what - a potential court case. He will have to live with those questions and his credibility his days moving forward.
CHANG: All right, that's Kim Foxx. She's the Cook County, Ill., state's attorney. Thank you very much.
FOXX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.