Does the Law Go Easier on Celebrities? These Lawyers’ Answers May Surprise You
Think famous actors, musicians and athletes get to break the law and get away with it? Think again. According to Las Vegas defense attorneys Gabriel L. Grasso and Brian J. Smith, “the law is very often much tougher on celebrities than it is on a person not known to the public”. Read on to discover the reasons why.
Why do so many people believe celebrities ‘get off easy’?
Many often assume celebrities have it easy when it comes to the law. Famous people appear to escape any sticky legal situation unscathed, and never seem to serve hard time. What many fail to realize, however, is that oftentimes celebrities are charged with minor offenses, and first-time offenses at that. And famous or not, most “minor offenders” with a good lawyer typically don’t face jail time.
But even though celebrities’ sentences are often plead down to misdemeanors, which again, is typical of non-violent, first time offenders, pop stars and athletes often receive harsher sentences in the form of higher fees and lengthier community service requirements. Let’s look at a few well-known examples:
When O.J. Simpson was convicted of robbery in 2008, he had no prior convictions but still received a 33-year prison sentence.
Popular opinion aside, the fact remains that prior to his 2007-armed robbery conviction in Nevada, O.J. Simpson had no prior convictions. Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995 and thus, in the eyes of the law, had a clean record.
And while the retired NFL player admitted to taking memorabilia out of a Las Vegas hotel room (memorabilia that he claimed had been stolen from him), he denied breaking into the room. He also denied being armed.
Despite these facts and despite having no prior criminal convictions in the state of Nevada, Simpson was found guilty of all 10 charges. And on October 3, 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years in state prison. Simpson will be eligible for parole after he serves a minimum of nine years.
Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys Gabriel L. Grasso and Brian J. Smith explain why this sentence is unusual.
“Now, what’s significant and what you have to remember is that coming into this case here in Nevada, OJ Simpson had no criminal convictions,” says Smith. “In 1995 he was found not guilty after trial of the murders of his former wife and Ronald Goldman. For all intents and purposes at least, OJ Simpson had no criminal record when he came into the state of Nevada.”
Would O.J. Simpson have received the same sentence were he not a celebrity?
While there is no way to say with full certainty what would have happened if Simpson had been an unknown defendant, attorneys Smith and Grasso point out that his sentence was unusually strict. As Smith explains it, “If I were representing someone who was completely unknown – not a famous person – with the exact same set of facts and circumstances, and a person who also had no criminal history, I think it’s a very safe bet to say that I probably could have negotiated that case down to a sentence of probation.” He pauses and then adds, “OJ is doing a minimum of nine years.”
Paris Hilton and Bruno Mars both received stricter-than-normal sentences for cocaine possession
In September 2010, the hotel heiress pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges in a Las Vegas courtroom. The charges stemmed from her arrest for possession of 0.8 grams of cocaine at The Wynn Las Vegas the previous month. And while she didn’t go to jail, her sentence included a year of probation, 200 hours of community service, and completion of a substance abuse program. She was also made to pay $2,000 in fines.
Similarly, singer Bruno Mars struck a plea bargain following his arrest, also in September of 2011. As with Hilton, Mars was arrested for cocaine possession – 2.6 grams – while staying at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. His deal with the Clark County District Attorney included the offense stricken from his record so long as remained trouble-free for 12 months. Mars also had to complete 200 hours of community service and pay a $2,000 fine.
If Hilton and Mars had no criminal history and weren’t famous, Grasso and Smith believe both cases would have gone differently.
“Again, with a defendant who is not a celebrity and who has no criminal history, which I’m going to assume that neither Ms Hilton nor Bruno Mars had, the way the case would play out – and I’ve done this many, many times in the past – is that very often the prosecutor will offer this: the charge gets reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor,” says Smith. He then explains that under normal circumstances, the defendant would pay a small fine “500 dollars– which is about normal” and complete an eight-hour long drug education class, which the defendant can take either in person or online. According to Grasso and Smith, once the defendant completes those two requirements – which may take anywhere between 30 and 90 days – the charge is dismissed.
By contrast, Mars and Hilton, as previously noted, were required to pay three times as much in fines and in addition to an eight-hour drug education class, they were required to perform 200 hours of community service. Hilton even had to undergo drug counseling at an outpatient treatment program. “So, there is some disparate treatment here,” observes Smith. “Mainly that Paris Hilton and Bruno Mars were made to jump through a hoop – and a pretty significant one.”
Why are celebrities given stricter sentences?
Grasso and Smith believe the reasons behind the harsher sentences could stem from the fact that these cases are in the “media spotlight”. As Smith explains, “…It’s in the news that these people got arrested. It also puts the district attorney’s office in the news and they do not want to appear to be ‘soft on crime’”. Celebrity arrest stories typically spread like wildfire and make national news, which means the world will be watching to see how the cases are resolved. “And they [the district attorneys] will make an example of these people who have committed the same type of offense as many other people.” And unfortunately for celebrities, this sometimes means they get “dealt with more harshly.”