Jury's deadlock could not be broken
A mistrial was declared in Britney Spears’ driving-without-a-license case Tuesday, sparing the singer a criminal record — for now — as she pushes to put her music career in front of her behavior.
The jury’s deadlock could not be broken, even after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Steele permitted prosecution and defense attorneys to make additional closing arguments Tuesday morning.
Spears came close to bucking the matter altogether: The jury’s final vote was 10-2 in favor of acquittal. A city prosecutor did not immediately indicate whether a retrial would be sought, but an afternoon hearing was scheduled to determine whether the case would be pursued further.
The jury struggled with the case since resuming deliberations Monday, telling a judge they couldn’t reach an unanimous decision after five votes going back to Friday. Steele thanked jurors for their time and dismissed them.
Deliberations lasted longer than the case, which featured only three witnesses and roughly a day’s worth of testimony and arguments.
Jurors posed a pair of questions Monday before declaring themselves deadlocked. One sought to clarify the charges against Spears, and whether she should be considered guilty if she possessed a valid Louisiana license, as her attorney has said she did.
The other: “Why was she stopped in the first place?” In fact, there was no traffic stop that precipitated the case; she was cited for hit-and-run and driving without a valid California license later, after video of the accident surfaced.
The defense argued that Spears didn’t meet the state’s residency requirements, and that her Louisiana license was all she needed to drive legally.
Defense and prosecution attorneys agreed that Spears was behind the wheel in California in August 2007. That kept jurors from hearing any mention of the hit-and-run — or any narrative elements to explain why she faced a criminal charge.
Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Michael Amerian initially put up only one witness and entered one piece of evidence during the trial, showing that Spears did not have a valid California license more than a week after the accident.
In all, only three witnesses testified during the case. After Flanagan called Spears’ father to the stand, Amerian introduced signed papers from the singer’s divorce that indicated she had been a California resident since at least 2006.
The final witness was a paparazzo who, along with other shooters, tails Spears constantly and said she spends about 80 percent of her time in Los Angeles. Flanagan countered, however, that none of those things required Spears to get a California license.
Spears never appeared during the trial. She is in the midst of a comeback, recently earning three MTV Video Music Awards. As her trial started last week, Billboard announced that her new single, “Womanizer,” was No. 1 on its charts.
Flanagan repeatedly said Spears had been targeted because of her celebrity status and said she should have been permitted to resolve the case by paying a small fine.
After the trial’s conclusion Friday, Amerian said it was Spears who was to blame for the case getting this far. He said his office had offered the singer two deals, one that included probation and another that would require her to pay a $1,000 fine. Both were rejected, he said.
He deflected criticism from Flanagan that the case was politically motivated. Amerian plans to run for City Attorney next year, but said Spears was being treated the same as any other driver.
He conceded that it is “extremely rare” for a misdemeanor driving without-a-valid-license case to go to trial, and neither he nor Flanagan could cite and example of when it had happened in Los Angeles.
The trial featured flashes of insight into Spears life, with the paparazzo telling jurors that Spears had recently tried to sneak out of her hilltop home in a gardener’s truck, but he spotted her between the plants.
Flanagan repeatedly said Spears intends to return to her home state of Louisiana and is building a new house there. He said those plans are on hold because she still has not regained custody of her two young sons from ex-husband Kevin Federline.
Despite a litany of legal woes, including her ongoing conservatorship, Flanagan said Spears is making progress.
“Things are going in the right direction for her,” he said.