On Wednesday night, Lindsay Lohan’s lawyers announced that the actress had officially rejected a plea bargain in connection to her felony grand theft charge, issued in February after she allegedly stole a $2,500 necklace from a jewelry store in Venice, Calif. Though the final decision will be made by a judge at a preliminary hearing April 22, it’s now likely Lohan will be ordered to face a jury trial, and if convicted, she’s looking at a maximum three years in prison. So the question now is: Will Lohan’s decision to reject a plea deal, which did include jail time, in favor of a trial pay off?
Lohan’s camp sure seems to think so. Her lawyer released the following statement after her rejection of the plea deal: “Ms. Lohan has maintained her innocence from the moment this case was filed and she has never wavered. Though many advised her to follow the safe route by taking ‘the deal,’ the truth is, Ms. Lohan is innocent; she has a strong defense; and we are confident that a jury will listen to the evidence fairly and acquit her.“
Strangely enough, the alleged victims in Lohan’s theft case might actually help her defense. In early March, one month after the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office filed grand theft felony charges against the actress, jewelry store Kamofie and Company reportedly bagged a hefty sum for selling the surveillance video of Lohan allegedly stealing the necklace to Entertainment Tonight. Two weeks later came news that the jewelry store had held discussions with an agent about a possible book deal. Using both points as evidence, the actress’ counsel could argue that an innocent Lohan was the victim of a press- and profit-hungry Kamofie and Company. “She’s got a great defense,” says attorney Mark Geragos, who has represented celebrities like Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder. “The fact that they [seem to have] done this for publicity, this company [that is] shopping around a book deal and profiting off the case, lends credence to the fact that this was a crime that was created for promotion.” (The jewelry store has denied allegations that they’re attempting to profit off Lohan’s alleged crime.)
That said, Kestenbaum, Eisner & Gorin LLP attorney Dmitry Gorin, believes Lohan hardly has a slam-dunk case. In fact, Gorin says Kamofie and Company’s attempt to profit off Lohan’s theft charge may have no bearing on the case at all, especially if the video footage of Lohan proves that the actress had possession of the $2,500 piece of jewelry before leaving the store. “That doesn’t change the evidence,” he says. “They’re shopping for a deal after [the crime] was reported to the police. It doesn’t impact the case. [Prosecutors] have the evidence they need. So how does the store owners’ ability to profit now take away from the strength of the evidence? The jury is going to sit back and say, ‘Hey, this is on video.’ If the evidence is there of her walking out of the store [with the necklace] – that’s pretty strong evidence.”
Also potentially detrimental to Lohan’s case is her history of theft accusations: She was sued in 2008 for allegedly stealing a fur coat at a nightclub, and in 2010, she was reportedly named a suspect in the alleged theft of a $35,000 Rolex. (Lohan settled the lawsuit surrounding the coat, and the victim who accused Lohan of stealing the Rolex withdrew her complaint). In 2009, Lohan was questioned in connection to the disappearance of $400,000 worth of Dior jewelry from an Elle photo shoot in London, but was not considered a suspect. “That’s a tough hurdle,” Geragos says. But Geragos also says it’s up to the judge to decide whether these pieces of evidence can be brought into the case at all. If it proves to establish a pattern of theft, the prosecution could call it motive. If these cases of alleged theft are considered to be too dissimilar from Lohan’s situation with Kamofie and Company, the judge could throw the evidence out. Attorney Gloria Allred, who has represented such headline-making names as Amber Frey and Rachel Uchitel, believes former accusations against Lohan may not be relevant to the case. “Accused is not convicted of,” Allred says. “So that might not even come in. [And] just because a lawsuit is settled doesn’t mean anyone is doing anything wrong. That may not also be evidence.”
But it’s still possible that Lohan’s history will play some role in this. How likely is it, in our tabloid-hungry nation, that a juror would not be aware of Lohan’s legal and personal troubles? Gorin says the actress’ counsel would be best served hiring a jury consultant, given her well-documented run-ins with the law. “Mostly celebrities are helped by their celebrity status. Look at Robert Blake and O.J. Simpson,” Gorin says. “But her recent celebrity is about getting in trouble. I don’t know if this celebrity she’s fostered is going to help her … Because she’s in the public eye, the DA will make an example of her. They don’t want to be seen as being light on celebrities. They won’t settle if not for jail time.”
Geragos says juries might be less friendly to celebrities than they were back in 2001, when he helped Ryder avoid jail time through a burglary charge acquittal. (Ryder was, however, found guilty of grant theft, shoplifting, and vandalism, and was given three years probation, community service, and several fines.) “With Winona … I don’t think that they were out to get her, I just think that back then — that was 10 years ago — was a completely different culture than what you have now,” Geragos says. “Now you have a situation where people tend to want to tear down celebrities.”
It’s also possible Lohan could see jail time even if she is acquitted of the theft. If a judge finds — either at the preliminary hearing or the trial — that the actress violated her probation in connection to a 2007 DUI arrest, she could be ordered to serve a short stint in jail. But it won’t be until the trial that we learn whether she’ll regret passing on the plea bargain and be forced to take up permanent residence at a Los Angeles prison for up to three years. “It’s a risk, but this is not Las Vegas,” Allred says. “If you take that gamble, it’s not just about losing your money. It’s about losing your liberty.”