The ruling came after a Cook County judge ruled Smollett last week to immediately begin serving 150 days in prison for five counts of disorderly conduct offenses for lying to police. The appeals court said Smollett could be released after signing a personal pledge of $150,000, which does not require any payment.
Watch: Jussie Smollett released from Cook County Jail
The 39-year-old was released from prison shortly after 8pm, bypassing a group of assembled media escorted by security and two of his brothers, without saying a word.
The three-judge panel of the appeals court voted 2-1 to let him go after Smollett’s lawyers argued, he would have finished serving his 150-day sentence by the time the appeal process was completed. An appeal can generally take months, if not years, to be resolved.
“I’m glad he came out and there was this reprieve,” said Smollett’s brother, JoJo, “I’m still concerned because there are still legal challenges for him to face, but I’m really, really happy with the appeal process we’re on our way now.”
Both the mayor’s office and the state’s attorney declined to comment on today’s release.
His defense team praised the appeals court’s decision to release him, and one of his attorneys told ABC7 Thursday that Smollett remains in Illinois and plans to help his family and legal team work on his appeal.
It’s working fine. Try to find out, re-engage again,” Jojo said. “He is very happy that he is at least able to communicate with the family. He is not out of the woods.”
It was not known whether Smollett should remain in Cook County or Chicago; Previously, Judge James Lane said that during his post-prison probation, he would be allowed to leave the state and register with his probation officer remotely.
WATCH: Jussie Smollett’s defense attorneys speak after their release
The Smollett family is relieved.
“It’s unbearable for family members to see their loved one go through this situation, just to let him get out of this situation, I’m thankful to God for that,” Jojo said.
Smollett spent six nights in prison. At that time, his lawyers said that the actor did not eat anything, but only drank water.
WATCH: Legal Analyst Thinks About How Jussie Smollett Will Get Out of Jail
“As far as we can tell now, he’s put off eating, and to be honest, I don’t blame him,” Smollett’s attorney, Heather Weddell, said. “He didn’t hurt. He didn’t lose any significant weight. He came out. He’s fine.”
His lawyers said the actor collapsed when they told him he was going to be released.
“He pushed his hands on the glass and he was, and he had tears in his eyes and I’ve never seen that before, because he was so strong in there,” said attorney Nene Uchi. “I almost lost hope in our constitutional system,” he said.
Part of his attorney’s argument was that Smollett could be in danger of bodily harm if he remained incarcerated in the Cook County Jail.
Smollett’s appeal is also based, in part, on the idea that the actor’s punishment violated the concept of double risk because he had already handed over a $10,000 bond and performed community service again in 2019. However, prosecutors said these were measures he voluntarily agreed to, and therefore do not constitute a penalty.
Smollett was sentenced to 30 months in prison for lying to police about launching a self-hate attack in Chicago, with the first 150 days of his sentence in the Cook County Jail. Had he been well-behaved, he could have been released at 75, but instead, he was released less than a week later.
“I think we’re here because the appeals court realized that was the right thing to do,” said attorney Shay Allen. “And I hope everyone realizes that the persecution that took place in that court was absurd.”
The mayor’s office and state attorneys declined to comment on Thursday’s release.
The court’s decision marks the latest chapter in a bizarre story that began in January 2019 when Smollett, who is black and gay, told Chicago police that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two men wearing ski masks. The hunt for the attackers soon turned into an investigation and arrest of Smollett himself on charges that he orchestrated the attack and lied to the police about it.
The investigation revealed that Smollett had paid two men he knew from working on the television show “Empire” to carry out the attack.
A jury convicted Smollett in December of five counts of disorderly conduct — the charge brought when someone lies to the police. He was acquitted of the sixth count.
WATCH: Legal Analysis of Smollett’s Release and Appeal Process
“The appeals court is going to take its time,” said Gil Souffer, a legal analyst at ABC7. “He would look at the memoranda presented to him and make a judgment on two things: first, should he reverse the conviction? And second, even if the conviction did exist, was the punishment appropriate?”
But is Smollett ready to go back to prison, shouldn’t the appeal have to go his way?
“He’s ready, but he’s very strong,” Weddell said. “He’s strong-willed. He knows that if things go the wrong way, he’ll have to serve out the rest of his sentence.”
Smollett maintained his innocence during the trial. During the verdict, he shouted at the judge that he was innocent, warning the judge that he had no suicidal tendencies, and if he died in custody, he was the one who would end his life, not him.
Watch | Jussie Smollett’s emotional outburst in court
Cook County Judge James Lane also ordered Smollett to pay $120,106 in damages to the City of Chicago and a $25,000 fine.
Moments after learning he was headed straight to prison, Smollett declared, “I’m not suicidal!” and “I didn’t do this!” With one fist in the air he was arrested and removed from the courtroom.
Lynne Smollett criticized before issuing his sentence for what he referred to as “misconduct and deception.”
“I will tell you, Master Smollett, I know that there is nothing I will do here today that comes close to the damage I have already done to your life,” said Lin.
In considering the sentencing, Lane said that Smollett’s “extreme” premeditation to commit the crime was an aggravating factor. He also said that the actor had denigrated the experiences of real hate crime victims, calling him an “impostor” and a liar.
“You went up on the witness stand. You didn’t have to. You did it. You were certainly right. But you committed hour after hour after hour of perjury,” said Lin.
Watch | Judge Lin’s full comments on the verdict
After the court, the Smollett family was visibly upset, expressing their disappointment that Smollett had received a prison sentence and continued to defend his innocence.
“I watched my brother go from being a complete victim, and he still is,” said Jockey Smollett, his younger brother. “He was attacked, and now he’s on his way to prison for being attacked.” “He is a survivor and has been completely abused. This must stop!”
Smollett’s defense lawyers were also incensed.
“I have never, in my entire career as a lawyer, and none of the other lawyers here seen a situation where a fourth-degree felony gets the same treatment as a violent crime,” defense attorney Nene Uchi said.
After a long and years investigation in court, Smollett was convicted of five of six felony counts of disorderly conduct for lying to the police. He faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison for all charges.
“These are very low-level crimes and it would be unusual in an ordinary case for someone without a meaningful criminal history to face a prison sentence for these crimes, but this is not the normal case,” ABC legal analyst Jill Soffer said.
Watch | Key moments in the Jussie Smollett case
Soffer said that if Smollett violated the terms of his release, he could go back to prison, but that’s unlikely.
Several big names came to Smollett’s defense, and wrote letters to the judge asking for leniency.
Among them was Reverend Jesse Jackson, who wrote in part that “Josie has a proven track record of being a highly engaged and contributing citizen” and that “Josie has really suffered.”
WATCH: Jussie Smollett’s lawyer says the actor is in Illinois after his release
Actor Samuel L. Jackson and his wife, actress Latania Jackson, also wrote a letter to the judge, partly saying, “I humbly implore you to find an alternative to imprisonment.”
When the Cook County District Attorney’s Office, Kim Fox, was asked to comment on the matter, he said, “We are focused on violent crime.”
Statement from Jussie Smollett’s attorney, Nene Uchi, in response to the Court of Appeals decision:
“We are very pleased with the ruling by the Illinois County Court of Appeals. We are pleased that excitement and politics are set aside and we can finally have an intellectual discussion about our laws with the esteemed Court of Appeals.
“Three years ago, Josie and the state of Illinois reached a deferred prosecution agreement in which he paid a fine of ten thousand dollars and performed community service. As a result, the case was dismissed.
“Recharging and prosecuting the exact same thing, again, is not just a moral error, but certainly a double risk and therefore unconstitutional. Especially as it concerns an innocent man.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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