Woman Pleads Guilty to Faking Her Kidnapping

But Carlee Russell avoids jail time
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 12, 2023 1:00 AM CDT
Updated Mar 22, 2024 12:00 AM CDT
Woman Found Guilty of Faking Her Kidnapping
In this image taken from video provided by ABC 33/40, Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis speaks at a press conference, Wednesday, July 19, 2023, in Hoover, Ala. regarding the disappearance of Carlee Russell.   (ABC 33/40 via AP)
UPDATE Mar 22, 2024 12:00 AM CDT

Carlee Russell, the Alabama woman who falsely claimed she was abducted when she stopped to help a toddler wandering on the highway, pleaded guilty Thursday to two misdemeanors related to false reporting, AL.com reports. As NewsNation explains, she was convicted in municipal court, where there are no jury trials, in October, and her legal team appealed because they believed the jail time she received was too harsh of a sentence and that appearing in front of a judge in a higher-level court who more commonly handles felonies might result in a more lenient sentence. The move paid off, as the judge on Thursday allowed her to avoid jail via a six-month suspended sentence. She was also ordered to pay $18,000 in restitution and get mental health counseling. She says "emotional issues and stress" led to the incident.

Oct 12, 2023 1:00 AM CDT

An Alabama woman accused of falsely telling police she was abducted after stopping to check on a toddler wandering along the highway is appealing her municipal court conviction in an effort to avoid a yearlong jail sentence sought by prosecutors, the AP reports. A municipal judge on Wednesday found Carlee Russell, 26, guilty of misdemeanor charges of false reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident. The guilty judgement came after Russell's attorneys agreed to "stipulate and appeal" the case—a legal maneuver to move the case to circuit court where proceedings will start anew.

Russell's summer disappearance—and her story of being abducted after stopping her car to check on the child—captivated the nation before police called it a hoax. Flanked by her family and attorneys, Russell made her first court appearance Wednesday amid a heavy media presence, news outlets reported. Defense attorney Richard Jaffe said in a telephone interview they do not think jail time is appropriate. He said they agreed to an arrangement called "stipulate and appeal." It is a court agreement in which a defendant acknowledges the evidence against them, a guilty decision is entered and the case is appealed to the circuit court.

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"We've requested a jury trial. That gives us an opportunity between now and then to explore all of our options and to try to work something out with the prosecution that does not involve jail time but does involve a fair restitution amount," Jaffe said. News outlets reported that prosecutors are seeking a year of jail time. Russell's attorneys said they don't think she should serve jail time for a misdemeanor offense. "We don't think jail time for a first-offender with a class A misdemeanor is reasonable because that just doesn't happen," Jaffe said. Jaffe said he understands that state prosecutors want jail time as a deterrent to potential future hoaxes. But he added that a conviction, restitution and the publicity surrounding the case will also have a deterrent effect.

(More Alabama stories.)

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