LOS ANGELES — Britney Spears has a license to go free.
Jurors remained deadlocked 10-2 on whether she was guilty of driving without a valid California license Tuesday. A mistrial was declared, prosecutors said they wouldn’t pursue the matter further — and Spears was spared a criminal record when the judge ultimately dismissed the case.
Ten of the 12 jurors favored outright acquittal for Spears, who never appeared in court. Her attorney, J. Michael Flanagan, declared victory and criticized prosecutors for bringing a “fix-it ticket” to trial because his client is famous.
But Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Michael Amerian said blame for the case getting this far belonged to Spears, who rejected two plea deals — one that included probation and another that would require her to pay a $1,000 fine. Flanagan has said Spears fought the charge to keep her record clean.
The jury’s deadlock could not be broken Tuesday, even after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Steele permitted attorneys to make additional closing arguments in the morning. 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, and prosecutors told him a couple of hours later that they were dropping the matter, prompting him to dismiss the case.
Gary Moy, the jury’s foreman, said Tuesday afternoon that he thought prosecutors did enough to convict Spears, but that the majority of his fellow jurors could not be swayed and thought the case was a waste of time. Moy added that he believed some jurors favored Spears because of her fame.
Amerian said the result was another example of the challenge of trying the famous in Tinseltown.
“It just goes to show, I think, how difficult it is to convict any celebrity of a crime here in Los Angeles,” Amerian said. “For whatever reason, jurors are reluctant to do that and I think history shows that.”
But Flanagan said Spears fame drove the case to trial, and that she should have been allowed to pay a small fine rather than face the maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Deliberations lasted longer than the case, which featured only three witnesses and roughly a day’s worth of testimony and arguments. The defense had argued that Spears didn’t meet the state’s residency requirements, and that her Louisiana license was all she needed to drive legally.
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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.
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings The other: “Why was she stopped in the first place?” In fact, there was no traffic stop that precipitated the case; she was cited later, after video of the accident surfaced.
Attorneys on both sides agreed that Spears was behind the wheel in August 2007 when she hit a parked car. That kept jurors from hearing any mention of the hit-and-run — or any narrative elements to explain why she faced a criminal charge.
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. 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.
Video: Britney's case dismissed Amerian said he thought he did enough to prove the case, but that pursuing it further wouldn’t be “prudent.”
Flanagan said he spoke to Britney Spears’ father and conservator, Jamie Spears, after the dismissal and described him as “ecstatic” with the result.”
Spears 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.
The trial featured flashes of insight into Spears life, with a paparazzo witness for the prosecution 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 this year, including her ongoing conservatorship, Flanagan said Spears is making progress.
“Things are going in the right direction for her,” he said.
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