Celebrity Justice?

August 31, 2009

I have posted several times on domestic violence (“DV”) and the Chris Brown/Rihanna saga. Now that Mr. Brown has been sentenced, a few thoughts are warranted.

I commented before that this matter may be resolved rather quickly or can take on a circus like atmosphere. Clearly, Mr. Brown and his legal team believed that contesting the charges was an up-hill battle or otherwise problematic. Brown was sentenced to 5 years formal probation, 180 days Cal. Trans (i.e. labor intensive community service), a one year domestic violence program, a stay away order from Rihanna (despite Rihanna’s request that such a stay away order not be in effect), as well as other conditions. While avoiding jail may sound like a great deal, such plea deal’s are common and defendants often avoid jail time when they have limited or no criminal history. The severity of the victims injuries is a key factor, to be sure. However, even though Rihanna’s injuries appear quite significant, they also are consistent with many similar (yet much less profile) DV cases.

The point is not to minimize the severity of this incident, or to portray Mr. Brown as the victim. But contrary to popular belief, celebrities often receive harsher treatment and sentences than the “average joe.” Although certain things (such as the DV program) are mandatory under California Law, it is quite conceivable that the “average joe” would have received less community service time, perhaps less probation and likely no “stay away” order where the victim herself is against it.

Mr. Brown’s sentence will not be easy. The media glare will be bright and many will look for any conduct justifying a violation of his probation. There are allegations already that Brown violated the terms of his probation by patronizing a night club in Los Angeles where alcohol is served. If Brown is charged with violating his probation, it may be revoked altogether. If that occurs, he can expect no leniency from the judge and will likely serve his sentence in prison. One must only recall the sentence and surrounding circumstances wherein Paris Hilton served in excess of 40 days in jail for a minor misdemeanor probation violation. The average person would likely have served only a few days, if any at all.

So justice in our system can be relative. But one must also remember that those with certain privilege and notoriety don’t always get a just sentence or fair treatment‚Ķdespite the fact that they are often no less deserving of it