Why the Jussie Smollett Case Should Not Be What Damages Your Faith in the Judicial System

On March 26, the Illinois state attorney’s office announced that they dropped all charges against Jussie Smollett, who was previously indicted on 16 felony counts for allegedly staging a hoax hate crime against himself in January. Smollett spoke to the media at the Cook County courthouse after the announcement that the charges against him had been dropped.

"I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one," he said. "I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I've been accused of," he told reporters.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson voiced his disappointment over the decision during a press conference. "Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology," he said. Johnson, an officer for 31 years, implied Smollett's attorneys brokered a deal.

However, after the emergency hearing at the Cook County Courthouse, Smollett’s attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, gave a press conference on the matter.

Holmes clarified that it is “not part of a deferred prosecution” and there “is no deal.” She urged the Chicago Police “not to jump ahead and utilize the press to convict people before they are tried in a court of law.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed Smollett used the law for his own benefit.

"He used the laws of the hate crime association that all of us through the years have put on the books to stand up to be the values that embody what we believe in," Emanuel said. "This is a whitewash of justice.”

If you think the Jussie Smollett scandal is a sign that our justice system is unfair, I would like to inform you, that it is in fact, not. I would like to highlight an organization that is doing real work to right the wrongs of our justice system: The Innocence Project

Founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, The Innocence Project works to exonerate the overwhelming number of innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted and who remain incarcerated. They also advocate for reforms to prevent future injustice.

The Illinois Innocence Project (IIP), located in the same state in which Smollett was charged, is a part of this fight. The IIP conducts research and investigative activities for attorneys representing convicted inmates in cases where there is a strong likelihood that the individuals, even though convicted, are actually innocent.

Among their successes is the posthumous exoneration of Grover Thompson in January 2019.

In 1981, despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime, no features that fit the description of the attacker, and a physical disability which precluded the possibility that he could have committed the crime, Thompson was wrongfully convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison. 

Years after his death, in 1996 Lt. Echols and Detective Jimmy Smith, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, were able to obtain a confession from Tim Krajcir, a serial rapist and murderer, for the crime Thompson had been wrongfully convicted of. Krajcir gave a detailed and accurate account of what happened that night, including a sketch of the bathroom.

In 2011, Thompson’s nephew, S.T. Jamison, and the Illinois Innocence Project filed an Executive Clemency Petition with the Illinois Prisoner Review Board asking for a posthumous exoneration. In December 2015, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner denied Thompson’s exoneration without explanation.

Thompson, 23 years after his death in prison, was finally granted executive clemency based on actual innocence by outgoing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2019. This posthumous exoneration is the first of its kind in Illinois, and, as of January 2019, is only the 21st such exoneration nationwide (National Registry of Exonerations).

Today, wrongful convictions are a frequent phenomenon, and represent the true unfairness of our justice system. The Innocence Project has succeeded in 364 DNA exonerations to date, and found more than 160 real perpetrators. As the rate of DNA exonerations has increased across the country in recent years, wrongful convictions have revealed disturbing breaks and trends in our criminal justice system. Among the leading causes of wrongful convictions: government misconduct, unreliable jailhouse informant testimony, inadequate defense, misapplication of forensic science, false confessions, and eyewitness misidentifications.

You can make a small difference by helping raise awareness about wrongful convictions. Instead of scrolling through Smollett conspiracy theory threads on Twitter, get involved by checking out The Innocence Project and all the hard work they have been doing for years.