Friday, August 24, 2007

Wealth & Justice

In Criminology this past week (and to a degree Delinquency) we discussed what Conflict theorists say about the law and our system of justice in the U.S.

One of the tenets of Conflict theory is that the powerful have the resources to escape criminal liability. Resources here meaning money, capital, fame, "connections", etc.

The actress Lindsay Lohan (left) was recently busted for DUI (her second charge) and possession of cocaine. The sentence handed down yesterday? "Lindsay Lohan reached a plea deal Thursday on misdemeanor drunken driving and cocaine charges that calls for her to spend one day in jail, serve 10 days of community service and complete a drug treatment program."

While she apparently pleaded guilty to "use" of cocaine, the plea agreement allowed her to skate the more serious "possession" charge. And on the DUI, she pleaded "no contest to two counts of driving with a blood-alcohol level above .08 percent and one count of reckless driving." In exchange for that, the "two counts of driving under the influence were dropped," thereby escaping the 120 jail sentence for a second DUI.

She was also sentenced to
"36 months probation, is required to complete an 18-month alcohol education program, pay hundreds of dollars in fines and must complete a three-day county coroner program in which she'll visit a morgue and talk to victims of drunken drivers."

Sidebar: I wonder if that's a typo, or do they actually have a program where probationers talk to victims of drunk driving who are in the morgue?

Despite the Deputy DA's comment that "
she's getting what everyone else would get," Conflict theorists would suggest that had Lohan been poor or minority in our society, such kid gloves treatment would be unlikely. Her army of attorneys helped hammer out a spectacular "plea deal", something that this article suggests is common if you are a celebrity with wealth:

"Outcomes of [other] recent celebrity driving-under-the-influence cases in Los Angeles County:

_Nicole Richie: Pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving under the influence of drugs, her second DUI. Sentenced to nearly four days in jail. Served 82 minutes. Also placed on three years probation.

_Paris Hilton: Pleaded no contest to alcohol-related reckless driving. Sentenced to three years probation, alcohol education and fines. Violated probation by driving on a suspended license. Sentenced to 45 days in jail...served 2 1/2 more weeks.

_Mel Gibson: Pleaded no contest to misdemeanor driving with a blood-alcohol level above the limit. Sentenced to three years probation, months of frequent Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and a first-offender program.

_Ty Pennington: Pleaded no contest to driving with a blood-alcohol level above the limit. Sentenced to three years probation, a 90-day alcohol program and a meeting of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

_Eve: The rapper-actress pleaded no contest to misdemeanor driving with a blood-alcohol level above the limit. Sentenced to three years probation, wearing an alcohol-detecting ankle bracelet for 45 days, a three-month alcohol education program, 10 AA meetings.

_Haley Joel Osment: Pleaded no contest to misdemeanor driving under the influence and misdemeanor marijuana possession. Sentenced to three years probation, 60 hours in an alcohol rehabilitation and education program, 26 AA meetings, and fines.

Wait a minute...the kid from "The Sixth Sense"? Say it ain't so!

We could also look at this from another angle; what some criminologists refer to as the "Net Widening Effect". You'll note that all of these celebrities were placed under unusually excessive probationary terms (3 years, minimum). Because probation requires a series of ongoing "fees," to be paid by the probationer throughout their term, Conflict theorists might argue that probation, in that sense, has become quite a "racket".

Also, the lengthy terms of probation increase the likelihood of violating a term of probation, thereby keeping people in the criminal justice system indefinitely.

Nonetheless, while most people enjoy following the travails of our Hollywood elite (and their so-called "getting what they deserve" on behalf of justice officials), this kind of examination diverts us away from a sadder truth: the vast majority of the people in the criminal justice system and in our nation's jails and prisons are poor and disproportionally minority.

It may "seem" as though the elite and wealthy are getting some semblance of justice when Hollywood stars runs afoul of the law, but it's hardly enough to offset the injustices of a system that Jeffrey Reiman calls "broken on purpose."

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