Paris Hilton Jail Sentence Unfair?

By now, you’ve likely read or heard that Paris Hilton got sentenced to 45 days in jail for violating her parole by driving with a suspended license. Jeralyn Merritt argues that the sentence is much stiffer than usual in such cases, likely because of Hilton’s celebrity status. She cites the judge’s decision to deny her the choice of buying her way into a nicer jail, as is apparently allowed in that jurisdiction.

More generally, Merritt contends that, “Jail should be a last resort for violent offenders from whom society needs to be protected. Driving under suspension, without more, even if on probation, just doesn’t qualify in my opinion. Community service would have been far better.”

As a general rule, I agree that jail should be reserved for those who are a danger to society. It makes no sense, for example, to incarcerate people for drug use or prostitution. There are probably more effective ways of punishing and deterring white collar crime, too.

Still, the woman was a danger to society when she was driving drunk. She wasn’t jailed for that but instead put on probation. She then flouted the terms of that probation. A few days in jail hardly seems unreasonable punishment for that.

Her celebrity status may indeed have hurt her, especially if the judge got the impression that Hilton thought her money and fame would allow her to get away with her misconduct. Then again, shouldn’t public figures, especially rich and powerful ones, be held to a higher standard?

After all, Joe Six Pack is hurt a lot more by a drunk driving offense than a Paris Hilton. She can afford the best legal counsel whereas even a run-of-the-mill attorney’s fees will seriously affect Joe Six Pack’s lifestyle. A fine of, say, $2500 is nothing to Paris Hilton but perhaps a month’s take home pay for him. A suspended license is devastating to most of us; someone with her resources can just hire a chauffeur. So, yeah, when she thumbs her nose at the law after being given a second chance, she ought to be slapped with a stiffer sentence.

Perhaps Hilton should have heeded the advice of her hard-partying predecessor Joe Walsh, who penned these epic words before she was even born:

    My Maserati does one-eighty-five
    I lost my license, now I don’t drive
    I have a limo, ride in the back
    I lock the doors in case I’m attacked

It kept him out of jail.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Popular Culture, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anthony C says:

    Personally, I reckon the sentence was bang on. There’s nothing wrong with inherited money but as far as I can tell she’s basically used it as a mandate to act like a spoiled brat and gives every impression of being under the illusion that The Rules are only something that applies to people who have to work for a living. A short sharp shock was most definitely in order.

    Pour encourager les autres and whatnot.

  2. just me says:

    I admit celebrity stuff like this doesn’t interest me at all, but the topic of this post did.

    I agree that some crimes aren’t that dangerous, and shouldn’t be criminalized, or at least the punishment doesn’t seem to warrant jail.

    But in this case she was given a chance to prove herself, she was put on probation and given some rules to follow and had her liscense suspended (something very common for drunk drivers and an appropriate punishment).

    What bugs me about this case is that a suspended liscense can be a real hardship to some people. Hiring cabs or hiring a driver isn’t generally a part of the budget. They generally have to rely on the charity of friends and family to get them where they need to go.

    Paris though, is more than capable of hiring a driver to take her wherever she needs to go. A suspended liscense doesn’t represent anywhere near the hardship it would for the majority of people. There is no excuse and no reason she couldn’t have obeyed the terms of the suspension, but she willfully chose to violate it.

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    just me has the right answer I think. Hilton is quite rich. Hiring a driver would be only a slight dent in the budget and a minor inconvenience. Still 45 days seems long, but perhaps the judge was miffed that she was late to court (over 18 minutes late). When your freedom is in question (due to a crime) be on time to the damn hearing.

  4. G.A. Phillips says:

    Great, here comes another reality show.

  5. William d'Inger says:

    Under the circumstances, she deserves jail, but I think a week would have been enough to serve justice and teach her a lesson. In my opinion, the judge went overboard.

  6. vnjagvet says:

    I suspect that the Judge heard nothing from anyone representing this spoiled human being to cause him to err on the side of lenity.

    Having seen no persuasive arguments that he abused his considerable discretion, I would not be inclined to reverse him were I hearing her appeal.

  7. Anderson says:

    What stupidity from J. Merritt. Driving drunk, as JJ notes, is violent. What if she’d been shooting an automatic rifle into the air for kicks? Maybe no one’s hurt, maybe a bullet falls on a kid & kills him. Same difference.

    Leaving aside the substantial basis for doubting that Hilton has any desire to change her behavior.

  8. Kevin says:

    For all of you who think the judge should have been more lenient toward the “Goddess of Gonorrhea”, he was….when she was placed on probation last fall. You can like her, you can hate her. But don’t say she did nothing wrong. Drunk drivers kill. If Hilton had killed someone while driving drunk…with or without license…would you think her sentence just? She has an “appointment” to serve time. She was sentenced to 45 days for violation of her probation for DRUNK DRIVING, not for driving with a suspended license. The appeal of this person is unbelievable. She does nothing. She produces nothing. Yet if she were to run over your child…what would you do? Ask for her autograph?

  9. Timothy says:

    Paris Hilton (and her mother too) actually has the audacity to whine and say she doesn’t deserve such a severe punishment. She’s getting exactly what anyone else would get for not obeying a court order. Ignorance is never an excuse when you are caught breaking the law. Ordered not to drive for however many days it was; stemming from a drunk and reckless driving conviction. Also ordered at that time to attend an “Alcohol Safety Class” by a certain time and given 3 years probation. She got off easy the first time.

    So basically she is saying “Screw You” and keeps driving without a license. (Remember, ignorance is never an excuse when you are caught breaking the law.) Paris gets caught 2 times driving on a suspended license (still does not go to jail) and is contemptuous by never completing or signing up for an Alcohol Class. She cannot claim she wasn’t aware of that particular duty she had to fulfill.

    Here in Alaska, first DUI is 90 days suspension of your license, 3 consecutive days in jail no matter what or who you are (eventually, you know trials and such). Getting caught driving on a suspended license is 10 days in jail regardless of whether you are aware of the suspension or not (20 days with 10 suspended). Getting caught again especially so soon, is 20 days with even more driving time suspensions. Contempt of court (from the ignoring the Alcohol Class) is anywhere from 5 to 20 days. That adds up to 45 days.

    Claiming, “I don’t deserve this” makes me want to puke. That’s exactly what the rest of would get, including you. The only nice thing she will be getting is not having to co-habitate with the general population. She broke the law! She endangered other citizens by driving drunk. Flipped her nose at the law (because she’s better than everyone else on the planet) by not following the court orders, probably thinking Daddy would take care of it.

    LA County jail, Yeah baby!

  10. jayne says:

    Nail that bitches ass!!

  11. j says:

    She deserves what she gets. It horrifies me that she is considered to be a role model to a lot of people because there is nothing about that girl that is worth looking up to.

  12. Wendy says:

    I have to say that this sentence “appears” to be a little lengthy, however she does deserve this, as she has in the past blatantly flaunted her wealth with an attitude that she is untouchable.
    If it were you or I, we would have either paid our fines, done the time etc.,
    She claims that she wants to be seen as a role model….then this will certainly show others, that for whatever BLIND reason think she is the bees knees, that no one is able to break the law and get away with it.
    Her mother, who appeared to be distressed at the sentence needs to see that Paris is accountable here, and that her carrying on is just being irresponsible as a parent.
    Both these women need to take a long hard look at selves.
    Money SHOULD not be able to buy you out of situations.
    Glad that this has happened, and I hope that she learns by this.
    If she does for some stupid reason, not serve this time, then I would be taking a very long hard look at the legal system in CA.
    I am in Australia, and this would not be something that we would not accept.

  13. Guy says:

    Is that true that Paris Hilton went out with Dr. Chris Mentillo? I would not be surprised only because I know that Dr. Chris Mentillo owns something like 4 mansions, 12 Porsche’s, takes something like 12 exotic vacations a year, owns 5 Rolex watches, and on and on. I forgot about the Island he owns and even offered to give it away to Paris Hilton.

  14. brucey says:

    I’m not a fan of paris and yes I think she is in idiot, but this is a mockery of the law. You can’t use a violation for a traffic offense to punish someone for being a spoiled brat. In other words, a judge’s personal opinion on a person that he reads about in the media shouldn’t cause him to doll out a harsher punishment. That means he’s influenced by the media and bias. Not exactly impartial. The law shouldn’t be a viceral reaction. No one who has one DUI and caught driving under a suspecnded license with no priors would have received a simlar punishment. That is unsettling…

  15. Bakka Seenu says:

    I do not understand what American celebrities think? Do they think that they are above everything?? I feel like laughing when American fans back her. Her act is funny, irresponsible in the society and SHE MUST SERVE THE SENTENCE!!

  16. Oh come on!Do you really believe she will go to prison?

  17. Wendy Robinson says:

    Oh come on!Do you really believe she will go to prison?

    Posted by: brittany spears at May 11, 2007 11:09 Permalink

    I hope so, as she is NOT above the law, this needs to be shown, and she needs to accept that she has done wrong – deal.
    It is how you deal with things in life that DEFINE you!!!