Pop Law: Do Celebrities Get Special Treatment?

Posted on Mar 28, 2017 in Blog Entry: Spinning the Law

This is an excerpt from Spinning the Law by Kendall Coffey. The full book is available for purchase on Amazon here.

The public usually assumes that celebrities receive preferential treatment at every turn in criminal cases, as well as in civil proceedings. Their lawyers tell a different story. The one point of agreement is that celebrities, like other people with lots of money, can hire the best legal representation. Additionally, a Martha Stewart can afford public-relations consultants and even public-opinion surveys, while ordinary defendants may be getting advice from only their family members and drinking pals.

Except for the issue of financial resources, celebrities are otherwise less favored by the system than one might think. Certainly, when it comes to being investigated, no one receives more scrutiny than a celebrity. Prosecutors and investigators look under every rock and behind every blade of grass. After all, if proceedings are brought, famous people become famous cases, and high-profile trials define the careers of prosecutors and sometimes of police and of criminalists.

Additionally, celebrities may have more difficulty getting favorable plea deals. Few prosecutors want to face public outrage and press rancor for supposedly letting a celebrity off the hook. As to prison time for guilty celebs, judges usually try to sentence the rich and famous as if they were neither. When cameras are hovering nearby, judges know they will not be rewarded for leniency.

Fraudster Bernie Madoff received a one-hundred-fifty-year prison sentence, five times his likely life expectancy. At the other end of the criminal spectrum, Paris Hilton was sentenced to forty-five days in jail for violating probation by driving without a license. Her sentence was certainly not lenient to begin with, but her modest legal problems were about to become a ratings gangbuster that attracted extensive coverage from cable news. When she was released early due to medical issues, a national uproar ensued. Within hours, the judge ordered her back into court and then on her way back to Los Angeles County jail. Professor and legal analyst Laurie L. Levenson attributed Hilton’s above-par punishment for traffic violations to the reality that “people are fed up with celebrity justice.” Being tough on Paris Hilton may have seemed harsh to her family and her fans, but for most of the public, the judge seemingly stood tall when Paris Hilton went down.

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