Michael Phelps & Celebrity Prosecutions

February 3, 2009

Learning that a celebrity engaged in dumb or illegal conduct is not much news these days. The recent story about super athlete Michael Phelps is no exception.

For those who aren’t in the know, Phelps was photographed at party taking a hit of what appears to be a “bong” –allegedly containing marijuana. Phelps didn’t help himself by making statements that can be used against him. But the mere fact that the Richland County (S.C) Sheriff is contemplating filing charges against Phelps raises a host of questions in and of itself.

Now, lets set aside issues of proof. Lets even set aside the issue of resources and the wisdom of investigating Mr. Phelps. Would the same sheriff consider investigating the case if your average citizen walked in with a similar photo of another average Joe. Not a difficult one to answer…the police would laugh him out of the station.

Whether this type of prosecution is merely a publicity stunt by local law enforcement and prosecutors, or whether they truly believe they are making a statement, it demonstrates that contrary to popular belief, celebrities are sometimes treated unfairly by the legal system compared to your average person.

Not too long ago, Paris Hilton found herself in a similar position. In a case where an average person would have served a few days of jail at best, she served forty days based on nothing more than being a high profile celebrity. In her case, the judge actually ordered her back to jail after the sheriff released her pursuant to guidelines governing all other inmates. If Phelps is actually charged, it will be another example of such treatment. Something we should consider before saying how easily celebrities “beat the system” with their fame, money and power.