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    Paris Hilton’s Case Shows A Big Flaw In The Judicial System

    Written before Paris dropped her appeal

    As Paris burns back in county jail, the debate over her short-lived release rages on, with law experts dissecting the thorny legal issues raised by the Simple Life star’s sentence.

    The main issue? Whether Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer was correct in overruling Sheriff Lee Baca’s decision to transfer Hilton to house arrest after just three full days in jail for what was originally a 45-day sentence.

    “It’s really bizarre that the most frivolous person in the western world in the most frivolous case in which she didn’t know she has a license to drive might end up creating precedent that could affect thousands of prisoners and where they’re housed and how they’re housed for years to come,” said Stan Goldman, professor of criminal law at Loyola University Law School.

    Goldman and others agree the showdown creates a legal quandary—i.e., whether the elected sheriff is truly independent of the judiciary and whether Judge Sauer overstepped his bounds.

    “The judge attempted to impose control over the sentence,” said Jody Armour, professor of law at the University of Southern California. “The sheriff doesn’t have discretion to do anything willy-nilly, but once the custody of an inmate has been given over to his department, the sheriff is given a lot of latitude. But with one huge exception.”

    Armour said that Sauer’s sentencing order explicitly forbade Baca from putting her in home confinement. “The judge was trying to limit the discretion of the sheriff, and the sheriff was saying this is our domain,” Armour said.

    “The Sheriff’s Department didn’t know that their discretionary decision would be overridden by the judge. But apparently so far they’re mistaken, and now, unfortunately, Paris is paying the price of that confusion and that misunderstanding.”

    The point was seconded by one of Armour’s colleagues at USC. “Usually the court is very loath to intervene with how the sheriff runs his jail facilities. He may have reason to move people around because of overcrowding or an emergency arises,” observed law professor Jean Rosenbluth. “But I think because the judge said from the very start no home confinement and 23 days, and the sheriff didn’t get his permission…the judge was quick to assert his control.”

    Sauer hauled Hilton back into court early Friday after learning that Baca had authorized Hilton’s so-called reassignment. The sheriff’s move sparked a monster PR nightmare, with accusations of his department giving special treatment to the hotel heiress.

    At a Friday press conference, Baca attempted to deflect criticism by first asserting that Hilton was a “low-level offender” and he was under a federal mandate to reduce inmate overcrowding. He then switched tacks and said she had “severe medical problems” and her condition was “rapidly deteriorating” without proper medication. After consulting with two psychologists, he made his decision.

    Goldman said the 23 days Hilton is expected to serve of her sentence (once she’s credited for time served and good behavior) is typical for such offenders, and normally she might get released after two weeks. But Goldman thinks that the hoopla over Hilton’s early release could work against her.

    “Is the sheriff going to be so gun-shy that he’s not going to release her in 15 or 16 days but they’re going make her do the 23?” Goldman wondered. “The question is, Can a judge in L.A. override that? Up until now, my answer would have been no. I have no doubt [Hilton’s lawyer] is going to appeal this to a higher court and decide whether [the sheriff] is independently functioning from the judge.”

    Which is what Hilton’s camp said they planned to do. Goldman thinks the appeal has a shot at success.

    “I’ve never seen someone pulled out of house arrest because the judge didn’t like it, as opposed to the judge saying that they violated the rules of house of arrest. It may be that the court of appeals may completely agree with the judge,” he said.

    Sauer has hardly been sympathetic to Hilton. During his original sentencing, he chided her for failing to take responsibility for her errors after prosecutors showed she was twice caught driving with a suspended license within weeks after pleading no contest to alcohol-related reckless driving in January.

    Baca said Hilton was being tossed around like a “football” by the criminal justice system. According to the legal experts, she will likely suffer much more than had she never got out of solitary confinement in the first place.

    “The sense of deprivation being so close to a release and you have expectations and then to have those firm expectations dashed with such a stark reversal of fortune must be really psychologically traumatic,” said Armour. “This has to heap on even more psychological trauma on her.”

    Added Goldman: “I’ve never had one defendant say to me that he was glad to be out. They all said [they were] sorry they didn’t go straight through because it was just too much for them to come out and have to go back in.”




    Comment from
    Time: June 10, 2007, 9:02 pm

    Looks like both the sherrif and judge took it personally and took action out of spite. Letting her out and then putting her back in again…mades the system look bad.

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