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June 11, 2007

The Rich vs. The Famous?

This conversation over whether Hilton would have gotten jail time were she merely rich, rather than also famous, is bizarrely beside the point. Repeated drunk driving violations and bad behavior in court would certainly have gotten her jail time were she not rich. And let's not even speculate as to the sentence were she black.

June 11, 2007 | Permalink


Yes! I was watching some celebrity lawyer on CNN blather about how he'd had clients in the same sort of situation who'd not done any jail time. I wanted to scream at him (and of course Wolf Blitzer didn't) that they didn't do time because they had a preposterously overpaid hotshot lawyer like himself defending them, whereas those of us who can't afford $100000000/hour legal fees would be behind bars in no time. The idea that Paris Hilton is getting screwed here is just so mind-numbing it hurts.

Posted by: moo-cow | Jun 11, 2007 3:25:16 PM

I'm not from California, but 45 days for a parole violaltion (not repeated DUIs, you should fix that, it was repeated parole violations, i.e., driving with license suspended) would be harsh here in WA. A fine and community service, or perhaps a few days in jail would be all that would happen to a normal person.

That said, it is people like Hilton who think that laws don't apply to them, and it must be aggravating for a judge to have someone before them smirk and act as if they are above it all. I think this is a Winona Ryder situation, that is, Paris is in fact being singled out for harsher treatment.

Do I care? Well, yes insofar as I think that our society's fixation on punishment for all kinds of behavior is really twisted and destructive. I'm for equal treatment, but eqully good treatment, not equally oppressive treatment.

Posted by: abject funk | Jun 11, 2007 3:26:19 PM

I argue that these spectacles of celebrity punishment become a substitute for honest-to-goodness class politics.

Posted by: Adrian | Jun 11, 2007 3:26:55 PM

Wrong wrong wrong. Very few people, if any, in NJ (and I'm sure CA), would have gotten 45 days for violating parole like this. A few days, a fine and community service. This is making an example of someone, plain and simple. If you're going to be against judicial discrimination, be consistent.

Posted by: jambro | Jun 11, 2007 3:29:36 PM

Go read Wolcott, he says it the way only he can.


Posted by: abject funk | Jun 11, 2007 3:41:33 PM

Yeah, all the boo-hoo-hooing about Paris getting a tougher-than-normal sentence because she's famous is nonsense. First off, 50% of sentences are tougher than normal, just like 50% of any population (outside of Lake Woebegon) is above-average or below-average. Second, she was given a pretty typical slap on the wrist when she went to court the first time. No jail, just a suspended license, a fine, and an alcohol diversion program. Paris fucked it up by 1) blowing off the rehab program, 2) getting caught driving on her suspended license and warned, 3) getting caught AGAIN driving on her suspended license (at 70mph in a 35mph zone at dark with her headlights off), 4) showing for court late, 5) trying to argue that she thought she could still drive to and from "work", 6) arguing that putting her in jail would destroy the lives of all of the young fans who look up to her, 7) having her mother loudly insult the judge and the prosecutor in their presence, while also wondering how she could have paid so much money for lawyers and not gotten her daughter off scot-free.

If you or I had slipped the short leash that we agreed to wear because we signed a probation agreement so often, so systematically, and so contemptuosly, then we would have been thrown in jail, just like Paris. She was given multiple chances to avoid her 45 days in the slammer, and she blew off every single one. The sentencing guidelines create a range of possible punishments for a reason - shitting on the court and showing the sort of epic contempt for the process that Paris did is why the high end of those guidelines exist.

I mean, the morning she was dragged back to court, the footage showed a delivery truck full of party supplies rolling up to her mansion. She was demonstrating her life-threatening mental and physical deterioration by planning on holding a "I got out of jail early" blowout that night. This is why they make it possible to throw the book at someone.

Posted by: FMguru | Jun 11, 2007 3:58:20 PM

According to L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, non-violent offenders typically serve only 10% of their sentence, which in Hilton's case would be about five days. By Saturday, with time she had already spent in jail and under house arrest, she'd already served seven days.

Posted by: JasonR | Jun 11, 2007 4:49:53 PM

I am perplexed by your suggestion that Joe Klein has missed the point, good sir.

Posted by: Chuck | Jun 11, 2007 4:54:17 PM


Fame drastically changes your treatment in prison. For instance, if you're arrested on the east side of L.A., you'll likely pass through the Inmate Reception Center in Twin Towers County Jail. You'll go through a booking process which can take up to 72 hours, depending on how busy they are. This is like the worst day of jury duty ever, and you're surrounded by a bunch of pissed off people who have also been arrested. If you're even slightly famous, however, you get to skip through this entire process. You also get your own cell (everyone else is crammed into a long series of holding cells). This is for the protection of the person being incarcerated and also to keep things calm in the IRC. If you're convicted, you'll still be housed alone, since it's not safe for you to be with other inmates. Now if you're rich enough (the son or daughter of a multimillionaire), you may get the same treatment. But it's the fame that guarantees it -- after all, if no one knows you're rich, you're not theoretically in danger (although you'll still never end up in the general population). It's often overlooked, but I think it's important to remember that preferential treatment in the legal system doesn't end with sentencing.

Posted by: Jake | Jun 11, 2007 5:13:22 PM

Okay, here's the "Medical Condition" that precipitated Paris' release into house arrest: A severe stress-induced genital herpes outbreak.

True story. From an acquaintance in LA Dept Corrections.

Posted by: jimmmm | Jun 11, 2007 6:02:36 PM

Wolcott has half a point, but the mixing of hte fictional and non-fictional damages his post in irreparable ways.

Posted by: djw | Jun 11, 2007 6:03:14 PM

If we're being serious here - and I'll get to that in a moment - of course fame and wealth pervert the process. OJ Simpson, I'd say, alone will remind us of that. I don't know what the argument is here really; the argument that Ana Cox and Joe Klein are having - about relating Scooter Libby to Paris - does seem interesting, because I think only Ann Coulter(!) found the logically consistent argument: you have to be opposed to both in order to successfully defend the idea that Libby shouldn't have a harsh sentence or be in jail very soon.

And one last serious point here - the problem here isn't just about jails and overcrowding and rich vs. poor and black vs. white - this is also about a lot of laxity around taking drunk driving seriously, or at least coming to a conclusion about how we address it. MADD aside, lots of people get very lackadaisical about trying to draw lines around which drunk driving is bad and which is not. Hilton, it should be pointed out has the wealth and fame of someone who would normally travel with a driver; yet there she is stumbling out of clubs and into cars and we all think it's mostly cute. More than most she flaunted our casual ignorance of drunk driving law when it suits. I don't know how a court system could have ignored that.

Now, about the question of discussing this seriously - we are still talking about Paris Hilton. Still. The idea that were going to get a useful policy debate out of this is close to ludicrous.

Posted by: weboy | Jun 11, 2007 6:40:34 PM


She didn't serve five days, she served three. I'm told she was checked in one minute to midnight and released one minute after midnight, so it "counts" as five, even though it's 72 hours and two minutes.

Posted by: Anthony Damiani | Jun 12, 2007 4:26:11 AM

I'm not a fan of Paris (fan of what exactly?) but I fund the populist zeal to hold her to the fire & make her accountable for her actions!1 in some quarters to be off putting & creepy.

Posted by: DRR | Jun 12, 2007 5:10:07 AM

Whether or not Hilton would have received jail time for her violation is pretty much beside the point. Whether the "news" media would have given her "face" time if she were not famous (for being famous) is very much on point.

It's cheap to do celebrity news, but why should people care?

Posted by: raj | Jun 12, 2007 7:12:39 AM

She didn't serve five days, she served three. I'm told she was checked in one minute to midnight and released one minute after midnight, so it "counts" as five, even though it's 72 hours and two minutes.

Does it? I dunno. I'm just repeating what the L.A. County Sheriff is reported to have said about it.

I don't really care about Paris Hilton at all, but like DRR I do find something disturbing about this obsession with punishing her. Andrew Sullivan referred to Hilton as a "whore" in one of his posts last week. There's something here that goes beyond a reasonable concern about justice and equal treatment under the law.

Posted by: JasonR | Jun 12, 2007 12:42:14 PM

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