Lindsay Lohan has been busted yet again for DUI, and Nicole Richie also faces jail time for driving under the influence. With their on-again, off-again cohort Paris Hilton fresh out of the slammer, Lohan and Richie may well be next in line for what some call a crackdown on Hollywood’s bad girls.
"Judges are not supposed to be sentencing somebody differently because they're a celebrity," said high-profile Los Angeles lawyer Gloria Allred in a phone interview. “They’re aware of the charge of special treatment and they don’t want to be guilty of that charge.”
Lohan's second DUI arrest in as many months on Tuesday could mean jail for the 21-year-old actress. Hilton was released from prison last month for violating probation, which the 26-year-old socialite had been given for her own drinking-and-driving arrest. And the reportedly pregnant Richie, 25, is awaiting trial for her second driving-under-the-influence offense in 10 years, an infraction that could land her in lockup.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer, who presided over the Hilton case, might have started something when he sentenced the hotel heiress to 45 days behind bars, which was later reduced to half that time but was still seen by many as a harsher-than-usual penalty for driving with a suspended license while she was on probation for the DUI charge.
Allred theorized that cops and courts are making an effort to counteract the perception of celebrity justice — in which stars get lighter punishments for breaking the law than ordinary people do.
That impression, said the celebrity lawyer, is "like the elephant in the room."
But the accusation of special treatment can go both ways, with the famous and their fans arguing that stars are getting stiffer punishments than average citizens and average citizens contending that stars are being let off more easily.
“It’s the issue of the double standard: It could be argued either way,” said Allred. “The judges have to be careful.”
All that said, a probation violation punishment, which turned out to be hard time for Hilton, is very different from an initial sentencing, which is what Lohan and Richie face.
"Miss Hilton had on more than one instance violated her probation," said Allan Parachini, a public information director at L.A. Superior Court. "A probation sentence is a compromise in which the defendant agrees to observe certain conditions in exchange for the court not imposing jail time."
Hilton was caught driving with a suspended license twice. Police arrested her the second time.
"If the defendant flouts the provisions of her probation, the court treats that very seriously — it really doesn’t matter what the initial offense was," Parachini said. "That is a betrayal of trust."
Stars who get in trouble with the law are handled differently from regular people only when it comes to security and press, according to Parachini.
"We do make some special accommodations for celebrities as it pertains to security planning and media facilitation services," he said. "We know that celebrities attract a more concerted kind of attention. ... Sometimes, we allow them to skip the line to get into a building."
But that's where the special treatment ends, he said. Hilton's sentence, for instance, was on par with the normal penalty imposed in similar cases, according to Parachini.
"There is no celebrity standard for our judges," he said. "I've talked to a few of them. I'm convinced that once they've got the case, it's just another case."
Allred agrees, though she believes this marks a change from the way things used to be done.
She attributes the switch partly to the onslaught of 24/7 media, and partly to the heightened interest in celebrity news — which means the spotlight is shining more intensely than ever on how stars behave and what happens to them when they cross the line.
“Wherever possible, [judges will] try to give a sentence like they would to anyone else,” said Allred. “In the past, celebrities did seem to receive special treatment. But it’s shifting.”