Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wesley Snipes Trial Opens Today

The Wesley Snipes tax trial starts today, and it sounds like the trial will be opening with many watching.  Tom Krause of The Tampa Tribune had two articles yesterday: Ocala Rejects 'Prejudice' and Snipes Was Asking Questions, Not Scheming IRS, Defense Says.   Some of the initial issues likely to arise:

  • Jury - Snipes has questioned whether the City of Ocala can provide him with a fair trial.   For the government, there can be the dislike for the IRS.  Picking a neutral jury may be tough for both sides.
  • Celebrity - How will the jury react to the celebrity? What would Martha Stewart say here? Being a celebrity can both hurt or help.  Jurors can be elated to have met the star and been that close to the actor.  On the other hand will they hold him to a higher standard?
  • Finger-pointing - Will the three co-defendants be finger-pointing and will the government just need to sit back and wait for the trial to end.
  • The Charges - The Indictment has an odd array of charges including two outside the typical tax realm - charges from title 18. Conspiracy charges are usually relatively easy ones for the government as the agreement does not have to be written and can be a mere nod of a head.  Equally detrimental for Snipes is that there are 6 counts of 26 U.S.C. 7203, a failure to file tax returns.  If the government can show that these tax returns were not filed, that's a lot of years for the defense to overcome.
  • Knowledge is Crucial in Tax Cases - The statute requires that Snipes have acted "willfully."   In Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192 (1991)  the Supreme Court held that  the standard for willfulness is the "voluntary, intentional, violation of a known legal duty."  This can be a tough standard for the government, especially when there is no showing of a desire to obtain a monetary gain.

For background on this case, see these prior posts:

Stick to Acting

A Nasty Turn in the Wesley Snipe Tax Prosecution

Wesley Snipes Moves to Dismiss Tax Charges

Girls Gone Wild Producer Charged With Tax Evasion

Wesley Snipes Surrenders on Tax Charge

Prosecutor Says Snipes Has No Deal?

No Jail Time for Wesley Snipes?

Wesley Snipes Charged With Tax Violations

(esp)

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