Celebrities and crime: The unfairness in punishment between celebrities and the public

All people should be equally punished for crimes


(Will Katcher/Daily Collegian)

By Nicole Biagioni, Collegian Columnist

For a long time, celebrities have been role models for kids and citizens across the United States and the world. Celebrities are perfect images of what people strive to be, yet they are never perfect; they make mistakes like you and me. But some mistakes are more than just mistakes – sometimes, they break the law. And it is assumed that if someone breaks the law, they are supposed to pay for their actions. Practically everyone knows the rhyme, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” So why doesn’t this same rhyme apply to celebrities? They commit the crimes, but time is rarely done.

It is well-known that celebrities have been committing crimes and getting little more than a slap on the wrist for their actions for years on end. Take the case of Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick in 1969. Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and fled the scene, but not calling the police sealed the fate his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. He did not report the crime until 10 a.m. the next day, shortly after Kopechne’s body was found. Kennedy could have been charged with vehicular manslaughter, but instead he was charged and plead guilty to fleeing a crime scene, which he did not serve time for. Instead, he was banned from driving.

Consider a more modern instance: Among the vast number of celebrities who have committed crimes, Justin Bieber is notable for his many offenses. Bieber has a lengthy rap sheet of offenses that were never paid for, including one in Miami in 2014. He was under the influence of multiple substances as he drag raced a Ferrari in his Lamborghini and when pulled over, Bieber was not cooperative with police officers and was arrested. Bieber plead guilty to resisting arrest and careless driving, but he was released from jail after paying a $2,500 bond.

Another example of the cycle of unfair treatment between working-class citizens and well-off celebrities is the recent scandal with Felicity Huffman. From the college admissions or “Operation Varsity Blues” case, Huffman, along with countless others, were charged with mail fraud. According to “U.S. Code Chapter 63 on Mail Fraud and Other Fraud Offenses,” mail fraud is a federal offense with a maximum prison sentence of 30 years along with hefty fines. But Huffman, who plead guilty to the charge, will only receive a maximum of 10 months in prison, if she goes to prison at all. Instead of prison, she may be allowed to serve her sentence at home wearing an ankle monitor. According to Dmitry Gorin, a judge can decide to loosely follow the law. Since Huffman pled guilty to the charge, and it is the first charge on her criminal record, the lower sentence can be explained to an extent.

But even if Huffman goes to prison for a short amount of time, what does that mean for the rest of America? Based off of the examples of countless celebrities and people of power getting away with crimes, it should be okay for everyday citizens to do the same. Why does the law only apply to the entirety of America and not the celebrities and upper class? Our country was founded on a basis of laws and principles that are made to be followed. It should still apply to all citizens, not just the average, every day citizen.

So, how do celebrities get off so easy? They have resources and connections that average citizens do not. They have the money to afford high-end attorneys that can get someone out of nearly any charge. At the same time, because of their fame, they may be able to call in a favor or use connections to get them out of such crimes. There is also the small possibility that celebrities can bribe either the judge or the jury. But most things of this nature are kept behind closed doors, so we’ll never have a clear answer as to why celebrities get to walk free without punishment.

It is infuriating to see celebrities get better treatment and lesser punishments for crimes that an average citizen might make. Looking back at the examples, if the celebrities charged were not celebrities, they would have been charged just like the rest of us. If the average citizen were to be charged with vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence in Massachusetts, which Ted Kennedy could possibly have been charged with, the citizen would face a minimum of five years in a state prison, a $25,000 fine and a 15-year license loss. But, since Kennedy was a part of a dynasty of influencers and had a famous name, he got off easy. Same goes with Bieber. If it weren’t for his music career, he could have served a six-month sentence. The double standard at which celebrities and the rest of America are punished needs to be reformed. Celebrities are not above the law and should face the full price for their actions.

Nicole Biagioni is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]