KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was indicted Thursday on a felony invasion of privacy charge. But what does it all mean legally? And what’s next?
FOX 4’s Zac Summers spoke with two metro criminal lawyers to break it all down.
The indictment was handed down by a grand jury made up of everyday Missourians. They were presented with evidence by a St. Louis prosecutor.
But grand jury proceedings are kept secret. What exactly they saw that led them to indict the Republican governor remains unknown.
Metro attorneys Pat McInerney and John Picerno agree today’s indictment of Greitens is unprecedented.
“I certainly think this is the first time we`ve had a charge like this levied against a Missouri governor,” said McInerney, who is a former prosecutor. “It’s an extraordinary situation for all the wrong reasons.”
The felony invasion of privacy charge stems from a March 2015 incident with the governor allegedly took a full or partially nude photo of a woman he was having an affair with. The photo is said to have been taken without her consent and was subsequently uploaded to a computer that could be seen by others.
The woman allegedly told her ex-husband that Greitens was using it to blackmail her into keeping quiet about the affair, but he has not been charged with blackmail.
In January, the Republican governor and his wife released a statement after the St. Louis television station KMOV reported he had a sexual relationship with his former hairdresser in 2015.
Greitens acknowledged that he’s been “unfaithful” in his marriage but denied allegations that he blackmailed the woman to stay quiet.
“What we don’t know here is all the facts there to back up the claim because the prosecutor, right now, doesn’t have to do that,” McInerney said.
The grand jury’s only job was to decide if there was enough probable cause to charge Greitens — not to determine if he is innocent or guilty. A decision by a grand jury also means there’s no probable cause statement, which often offers more details as to why someone is being charged.
“Unless there’s a hearing to the evidence, you won’t hear the actual evidence until the trial — if there is a trial,” Picerno said.
Despite the lack of information surrounding the indictment, both lawyers agree there must have been enough there for the grand jury to reach its decision.
“I would imagine the prosecutor’s office got a hold of evidence of the photograph transmitted,” McInerney said.
The indictment means a preliminary hearing won’t be needed, but Greitens’ attorney hopes to prevent a trial by filing a motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss is exactly what it sounds like: It’s a formal request for a court to throw out a case.
Greitens’ attorney called the charge against his client “baseless and unfounded.”
But McInerney and Picerno both said it’s highly unusual for a motion to dismiss to be granted.
“They’re rare to be filed and probably even rarer to be granted,” Picerno said.
Picerno said Greitens’ case doesn’t seem like the type of case that would lend itself to a judge dismissing it.
“It’s something we see more of in a civil case as opposed to a criminal case,” Picerno said.
McInerney said this is just the beginning of what could be a long legal process for Greitens.
There have already been some calls for Greitens to resign or be impeached, Kansas City Star columnist Dave Helling said it’s important to remember the indictment is not an admission of guilt.
“I think we’re some distance from that, too,” Helling said, “because it’s just such an involved process and again — as we sit here today — the governor is presumed innocent of anything.”
Greitens released the following statement about the indictment:
“As I have said before, I made a personal mistake before I was Governor. I did not commit a crime. With today’s disappointing and misguided political decision, my confidence in our prosecutorial system is shaken, but not broken. I know this will be righted soon.
“The people of Missouri deserve better than a reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points. I look forward to the legal remedies to reverse this action. This will not for a moment deter me from doing the important work of the great people of Missouri.”
If convicted of the felony, the governor could face up to four — possibly five — years in prison. He’s due to make his first appearance in court on March 16.