Law in Focus: The Plight of Paris

Blogger’s Note: Law In Focus is a feature here at the Forum that poses a question to a local attorney concerning a recent court decision or controversial area of law. Keep in mind: these are lawyers we’re talking about. So expect them to have opinions. Feel free to comment on them below or ask a question.

Today’s topic: Paris Hilton has made headlines recently — as she always does — by getting a DUI, driving with a suspended license, and ultimately landing in jail for those crimes. There’s been much talk in the media about the case: did authorities make an example out of her by casting a harsh sentence? Were they too lenient for the same reason? Here to comment on the decision is Stan Glisson, a local Bremerton defense attorney.

Here’s Stan’s opinion:

Paris Hilton has been ordered back to jail by the sentencing judge in her case for violating probation. Many think she has been treated too harshly, receiving a 45 day jail sentence. Statistics compiled by the LA Times certainly suggest that defendants facing similar allegations commonly get less time. But does that make her sentence unfair?

Hilton was arrested in September 2006 for suspicion of DUI. Because she was driving with a blood alcohol content of .08, the California DMV suspended her driver’s license from November 2006 until March 29, 2007. On January 15, 2007, she was caught driving during the period of suspension. As near as I can tell, Hilton received zero penalty.

On January 22, 2007 she pleaded no contest to a charge of alcohol-related reckless driving for the September incident, with three years probation. The sentencing judge ordered that she attend a 12-hour alcohol education program within 21 days and not drive without a valid license. She signed her notice of these requirements, and by all accounts the judge was very clear to her about the terms of her probation.

On February 22, 2007, she was again caught driving with her license suspended. It has been reported that her copy of the court order that she signed was in her glove box. And she still had not attended the required alcohol class.

She is certainly not the first person to violate a court order about driving while suspended. And true, they commonly don’t get actual jail time. It is a fairly low priority crime. But it is a crime. And when a judge looks you in the eye and tells you not to drive while you are suspended, there is no confusion. Many people choose to disregard that order. But if a person does make that choice, we should not be surprised when there are consequences. We have laws in this country that apply to, and protect us all. Violate them if you choose. But if you do, then you lose the right to be outraged or indigent if you get caught and a judge holds you accountable.

Did she get harsher treatment than similarly situated defendants normally would have? After reviewing the the LA Times research, it seems to me that she probably did. But the judge told her not to drive, and when she came back before him, he remembered her. He remembered telling her not to drive. And why do you suppose he remembered her?

Because she does everything humanly possible, every day of her life, to be noticed and remembered. Believe me, being remembered by the sentencing judge in court is never a good thing.

He gave her two clear directives: don’t drive while suspended, and attend an alcohol class. She decided to disregard both of those orders. So he imposed a sanction, and yes it is a harsh one. And while it’s true that it was the sheriff’s decision to release her early, she is not being further punished by the court essentially overruling that decision. The court is simply enforcing its previous ruling. She is still entitled to reasonable ‘good time’ or other credit, but what he did was to ensure that she serves a meaningful sanction.

When any person holds themselves out in the public eye, and demands attention as she does, they create this collateral effect. Her walking out of jail after serving less than 1/10th of her sentence makes an absolute mockery of the significance of her probation violations. And it may be that it happens sometimes, with ‘anonymous’ defendants, but the court didn’t want to allow it to happen when the eyes of the world were watching. She asked for world to notice her, and to pay attention to her and what she does. And the judge was.


Stan Glisson is an attorney in Bremerton with the firm Glisson and Witt. Their firm mainly handles DUI and misdemeanor defense, as well as felony defense. Glisson earned his law degree at the University of Washington, has worked as a Kitsap County deputy prosecutor, and as a Kitsap and Snohomish defense attorney before entering private practice.

7 thoughts on “Law in Focus: The Plight of Paris

  1. Here’s why I have no pity for her whatsoever. She is filthy stinking rich and never needs to drive. A limo could have been luxuriously transporting her wherever she needed to go. Therefore she never should have gotten a DUI in the first place, nevertheless driven on a suspended.

  2. I don’t understand the DUI charge and I’m not sure about California law. Was the DUI reduced to reckless driving and if so why? Why was she only ordered to do a 12 hr alcohol class instead of having to do an assessment and treatment if needed and why was she not required to have an interlock device on her vehicle and attend a victim impact panel? I think she got off pretty easy for a DUI compared to our laws. So then she gets caught driving suspended with no penalty in January, she should have been arrested then. And then another violation in February. I would say that with a DUI and 2 driving while suspended in a matter of 6 months that she has earned every moment of her sentence. In my opinion this spoiled brat has slapped the faces of and thumbed her nose at every victim of drunk driving. She seems to be much more concerned about losing time at the tanning booth then the seriousness of the crimes she chose to commit.

  3. Paris did get a warning while caught the second time driving without a driver’s license. Considered the terms of her past history and sentence, Paris did get off because of who she was and did not get taken in when pulled over the second time. If that were me with all the surrounding circumstances, I would have been taken in on the second pull over and charged. In this case, Paris basically said “I am Paris Hilton, I can do what ever the #!*$ I want! – what can they do to me?” and did what she wanted to do regardless. Paris needed a jolt to get her life in order. She is 26 and needs to grow up. I bet she’s not going to drink and drive again and be less arrogant when she gets out. The sentence and handling of her case, in my opinion was appropriate and the correct thing to do.

  4. I have no feelings about her situation…but am astounded by the media frenzy over something so simple and straightforward.
    Have we nothing better to do than waste time and energy over – what?
    Get a life, people.
    Sharon O’Hara

  5. The thing is Sharon that every year there are aprox. 17,000 people who no longer have a life because of drunk driving. There is the media frenzy over this person because of who she is whether we like her or not. I wish there were more of a media frenzy over the 20,000 DUI offenders arrested in this state alone last year. Maybe then there would be more pressure on our lawmakers to quit treating these offenders like ‘brats’ and start treating them like criminals.

  6. The problem is, Nora, the media frenzy isn’t really about her conviction. Its about selling newspapers, selling footage of a person the public apparently wants to know about.

    I suggest we each take personal responsibility and take away the car keys of our loved ones…do not let them drink and drive.
    Warm the drunk if they don’t give you the keys and insist on driving impaired… you’ll call 911 and report them as a drunk driving. Then DO IT.
    The life you save may well be your own child.
    Sharon O’Hara

  7. You are so right Sharon. I don’t care one bit about Paris Hilton but I am dedicated to doing everything I possibly can to make drunk driving a thing of the past. I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in my lifetime. But just as the media will make a sensation out of people like Paris Hilton for the purpose of selling papers etc., I will do my best to bring awareness to the crime(s) that she has committed. So many young people look up to movie stars, athletes and other high profile people and when they are arrested for DUI and other crimes it always seems that the big story is about how they were mistreated or the cops and judges were the bad guys or what top fashion designer they wore to court. The message that comes out many times is a long cry from taking responsibility.

    ‘I suggest we each take personal responsibility and take away the car keys of our loved ones…do not let them drink and drive.
    Warn the drunk if they don’t give you the keys and insist on driving impaired… you’ll call 911 and report them as a drunk driving. Then DO IT.
    The life you save may well be your own child.’

    I have never since and never will hesitate or think that anything is more important than reporting a drunk or dangerous driver when I see one. We will never know how many lives we will save by taking action, but we sure do know about the ones we don’t.

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