Wesley Snipes' lawyers appeal actor's tax evasion conviction

6:17 PM, Nov 15, 2010   |    comments
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OCALA, Florida -- Lawyers for actor Wesley Snipes were in federal court in Ocala today, appealing Snipes' 2008 conviction on three counts of failing to file his income taxes.

Snipes himself was not in the courtroom, but if today's appeal is denied, the actor could be headed to prison.

Lawyers for Snipes say the 48-year-old actor is the victim of rogue jurors who'd made up their minds well before deliberating in his 2008 tax evasion trial.

They say they received unsolicited emails sent to their office by two other jurors which make that allegation and thus, the lawyers contend, bring into question whether Snipes received a fair trial.

"This is not just a 'let's stretch it out' situation," said defense attorney Dan Meecham, who thus far has managed to keep his client out of jail, "It is a requirement that I have as a lawyer that if I'm given this information, I need to pursue it."

Snipes waived his right to be in court for today's appeal.

His lawyers also motioned for a mistrial, arguing the government's key witness against Snipes, financial advisor Kenneth Starr, was being investigated on similar fraud charges when he testified against Snipes. They contend prosecutors knew or should have known it, but didn't tell them Starr was tainted - which in turn, may have given jurors a false impression.

"They had a requirement to give that information up," says Meecham.

Prosecutors deny having any knowledge of Starr's wrongdoings at the time of Snipes' trial.

"We oppose them and we believe the law is on our side," said U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill.

Prosecutor Patty Barksdale also argued that re-questioning jurors two years later about their deliberations would be legally inappropriate.

The U.S. Attorney says it's high time Snipes -- who was acquitted on two more serious charges, but convicted of three misdemeanors -- starts serving his three year prison sentence.

But the actor's defense lawyers say there's no rush.

Snipes, they say, poses no threat to the public, is not a flight risk, and has been a model defendant.

"He's respectful. He's been on time each court appearance he's been required to be at. He's been there," said Meecham.

But O'Neill says that's why Snipes has been allowed to remain free this long, and his legal avenues are diminishing.

"It's a non-violent offense. It's a tax offense. So the court has let him out on bond pending the various legal issues," said O'Neill, "But most of the legal issues have been decided already."

Lawyers say it will probably take Judge William Hodges about two weeks to decide whether to grant Snipes a new trial, or perhaps allow jurors to be questioned.

But if Snipes' appeal is denied, Judge Hodges will also have to decide if the actor can remain free on bail while lawyers appeal the case to the next level or whether he'll require Snipes to report tot the bureau of prisons, as soon as possible for a date with a very real-life prison cell.

Snipes was convicted of failing to pay taxes in 1998 through the year 2000. During that period, prosecutors say he'd earned approximately $38 million. 

Eric Glasser, 10 News

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