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.