Attorney Leonard Levine: Early Releases Are Not Uncommon

This article doesn’t talk about the medical reasons

The judge said she’d get no breaks. The sheriff said she’d do her time. Even Paris Hilton said she was ready to face her sentence. Three days after making a late-night entrance at a county jail, Hilton left in the middle of the night, raising questions about whether she had finally cashed in on her celebrity status and gotten special treatment.

Although the jury of public opinion may be outraged at Hilton’s early release, attorneys who have handled similar cases for less famous folks said her treatment was neither special nor unusual.

“She would have gotten out early if she was plain Jane,” said attorney Leonard Levine, who has handled numerous probation violation cases. “She did as much time as a normal person would have done.”

Levine and other experts noted that the Los Angeles County jail system is so overcrowded that thousands of prisoners have been receiving early release in nonviolent cases, many of them serving only 10 percent of their sentences. In December, a federal judge renewed a temporary restraining order on the jails that sheriff’s officials argue have forced early releases.

“The real problem with these cases is to get them treated like anyone else,” said attorney Harland Braun, who often represents celebrities. “She was being treated differently. I can’t imagine anyone else going in for 45 days for a probation violation. I always thought she was being treated more harshly than anyone else.”

Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson said she suspects the deal for Hilton’s release was in the works even before she entered the jail system.

“I don’t think her lawyer sent her in expecting her to do 23 days,” she said, and added that jail officials probably were anxious to get her out of their custody.

“She was going to be a major drain on the institution,” Levenson said. “The time and resources needed to take care of a Paris Hilton are huge. They have to make sure she is safe and her medical needs are attended to. Everything they did was going to be looked at under a microscope.”

Levine said that with rewards being offered for pictures of Hilton in custody, jail officials would have to monitor the cell phone cameras of every employee to make sure they did not try to photograph her.

City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo denounced the sheriff’s decision to release Hilton, saying his office was not properly advised and would have opposed it on legal grounds. Delgadillo asserted that only the judge retained jurisdiction over her case.

Steve Cron, another defense attorney who has represented celebrities, said Hilton’s treatment was unusual. He said more recent releases due to overcrowding have come after prisoners serve 25 percent of their sentences.

“I think the sheriff was just tired of the paparazzi and the increased security problems,” said Cron. “But I don’t buy the reasons they gave.”

Cron and others said that inmates with health or psychological problems can be treated in the jail infirmary. Levine agreed, saying a claim that she was released because of psychological problems doesn’t ring true.

“If psychological problems were good reason to have people released, half the population of the prisons would be out,” said Levine.

Cron said that whether or not Hilton was treated fairly, the outcome of this high-profile criminal case doesn’t reflect well on the criminal justice system.

“I’m proud of the system and this makes the system look cheap,” Cron said. “It makes it look like she’s a celebrity and she got a sweetheart deal. It will further the perception that celebrities are treated differently and that’s unfortunate.”

Posted: June 7th, 2007
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