Lawyer uses ‘Will Smith defense’ for murder of defendant

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(NewsNation) – A Virginia attorney used what some call the “Will Smith defense” for his client charged with murder. Legal analysts say this may just be the start of the defense strategy stemming from a lack of charges after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars on Sunday.

According to the Roanoke Times, William Ray, 25, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder on charges he killed his fiancé, mother and boyfriend in March 2020. Investigators say Ray stabbed the little friend 20 times with a folding knife and confessed to the crime.

Ray’s defense pushed to reduce the severity of his manslaughter or second-degree murder charges. During closing arguments on Tuesday, defense attorney Derek Padgett asked jurors if they’ve ever ‘cracked up before’ and said ‘things you wouldn’t usually do – like Will Smith. “He wishes he could take it back. But he can’t. You can’t undo a stick.”

The jury did not buy Ray’s defense, returning a guilty verdict on the murder charges in about two hours. But legal analysts say the ‘Will Smith defense’ could be heard in courtrooms across the country.

Law and Crime Network analysts Jesse Weber and Brian Buckmire weighed in on the tactics when they appeared on Dan Abrams Live.

Weber thinks the “Will Smith defense” will definitely be used in the future.

“What you’re going to see is that it normalizes that behavior, in particular, and I think everyone had the wrong impression here, that if a victim doesn’t file a complaint or a victim doesn’t report or ‘a victim doesn’t cooperate with the police, that means oh, the abuser gets away with it because Chris Rock didn’t press charges. Do you know how badly I have a problem with this? They didn’t need him to move forward with this investigation. They should have stopped him [Will Smith] and that’s what we’re going to see. Not only is the “I broke defense,” but if the victim somehow doesn’t cooperate with investigators, their hands are tied. This is not the case. That’s not how the law works,” Weber said.

Criminal defense attorney Brian Buckmire said while the “Will Smith defense” may be bizarre, he thinks it could eventually be replaced by what attorneys call the “heat of passion” defense.

“The ‘Will Smith defense’ applied here is bizarre. But what I think can happen or probably will happen, in your opinion, Dan, is that this defense is going to replace what defense attorneys have been using since I went to law school. It’s the typical heat-of-passion law school argument,” Buckmire said.

He added: “The application of this here [William Ray case], especially knowing the context with Will Smith and Chris Rock here, are ridiculous to compare. But I can see in some cases that it’s now “Will Smith’s defense”.

Some wondered if the Oscars incident would set a precedent for the prosecution of similar cases.

“I think people are going to watch this and say, ‘Well, if he can go on national television in front of the whole world and slap another comedian who was helpless, what can I do now?’ The idea is that if you want probable cause to investigate, we’ve all seen it. […] we all watched this in real time,” Weber commented.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says Smith was asked to quit the Oscars after the onstage slap and declined. The group claims Smith violated the Academy’s code of conduct when he slapped Rock on Sunday night and acknowledges they could have handled the situation in a different way.

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