Lawyer Andrew Cohen analyzes legal affairs for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
Let's get one thing clear. I cannot stand Paris Hilton. I despise everything she stands for and, to be quite honest, I don't find her attractive or intriguing in the least. But I am not going to add my voice to the chorus singing meanly today about the unfair, unjust "sweetheart" deal she received today when she was released early from prison due to some sort of medical condition. Why? Because the truth is that if she were you or I she never in a million years would have been sentenced to such a long prison term to begin with.
First, she was given a 45-day sentence for violating the terms of her probation by driving with a suspended license. Just imagine what our world would look like if everyone caught driving with a suspended license while on probation caught six weeks in jail. Then, under California sentencing guidelines, that sentence was cut in half. Even then, at 23 days, it was longer than any first-time, non-violent probation offender would have a right to expect in the form of punishment.
Now, after five days in the pokey, she gets out of jail but will have to serve another 40 days—the full term of her original sentence—under house arrest. Did the princess get a break because she knows how to whine to the right people and in the right way? Did prison officials and prosecutors agree to the deal because they no longer wanted to deal with the hassle of housing Hilton in some special needs section of the prison? Does she really have a medical condition? Who knows. And, really, who cares?
The point is that you can't argue that she got a break today because of her celebrity without acknowledging in the first place that her celebrity is what put her in prison. Her judgewanted to make an example of her—and he sure did. I think it is inevitable for judges or prosecutors to see high-profile defendants not just as individuals but as means to an end—the end being some sort of deterrent to others to avoid certain conduct. The judge hoped he would not only teach Hilton a lesson—and who among us wouldn't want to do that?--but also teach everyone else out there on probation to get their driver's licenses updated. Message received, judge.
It might have been messy—what about this woman's life isn't?—but now Paris is out of prison at roughly the same point she would have been out of prison had her name been Jane Doe or Andrew Cohen or whatever. That's not cause for outrage. That's cause for satisfaction. Celebrities are people, too. Even celebrities like this one.