Hollywood Actor Faces 16 Years in Prison

An Unwinnable Case in the Impossible Place

Problem: Indicted on eight counts, including several felony fraud and conspiracy charges, Wesley Snipes faced:

  • 16 years in federal prison;
  • fines of more than $40 million and a bankrupting effect on his financial position;
  • the potential end to his successful movie and film career;
  • a 90 percent chance of conviction on all counts.

Indicted in a conservative small town in the middle of rural Florida, a town with a long history of antipathy toward African-Americans, the case was dubbed by commentators the “unwinnable case in the impossible place.” Offshore odds-makers actually placed odds on the verdict, predicting a 90 percent chance of conviction on all counts, including the 16-year felony fraud count.

What changed: A few weeks before his original scheduled trial date, with no meaningful successful resolution by a broad group of prominent counsel, Snipes reached out and retained Barnes.

With a strategy labeled “unique” and “ingenious” by commentators, Barnes devised a trial defense that ensured a fairer jury pool, allowed favorable rulings on evidence, gave the jury important instructions, and featured effective, well-planned cross-examination. Barnes’s unique “staccatto” style of cross-examination caused a commentator to say “The last place I would want to be is on the stand with Bob Barnes cross-examining me."

Barnes defense offered jurors a simple and truthful narrative. In his closing argument, Barnes said, "The Liberty Bell my be cracked in Philadelphia, but it can still be heard in Ocala.”


  • Acquittals on all felony charges.
  • Acquittals on all fraud charges.
  • Acquittals on all conspiracy charges.
  • Acquittals on half of the misdemeanor charges.
  • No fine.
  • No fraud penalties.
  • Lower tax payments.

And a federal work camp for the remaining misdemeanor charges.

Snipes is scheduled to come to a theatre near you soon as the star of Spike Lee’s biopic on James Brown.

The New York Times recognized Robert Barnes’ successes in the courtroom.

USA Today recognized Robert Barnes’ successes in the courtroom.