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Monday, January 25, 2010

Standards Of Celebrity Justice

The CBS News Crimesider reported on October 5, 2009 that Roman Polanski the accused child rapist agreed to pay to make it go away. “15 years after he fled the United States, film director — and child rapist — Roman Polanski agreed to pay his sexual assault victim $500,000 to settle a lawsuit, according to court documents.”

Whether offered by the accused or extracted by civil proceedings, we are all getting too accustomed to the idea that money is a good substitute for justice. We know what O.J. had to pay. And, the huge sums Michael Jackson coughed up are now public record, but do we actually accept these as reasonable payments for criminal behaviors that the common man would be asked to pay for with long prison terms or even with his life?

Today, our society is obsessed with all the behavior of the rich and famous. Is it any wonder that securing justice in situations involving criminal accusations against entertainment industry giants is so difficult? Consider politics. Elected officials seem to routinely engage in reckless conduct with an arrogance displayed by those convinced they are above the law. And, sadly, many are more than happy to grant celebrities this higher status.

Imagine what might happen if Joe Average admitted to engaging in sexual relations at the workplace with many female subordinates. What would happen to Mr. Average if he were exposed for tax evasion? And, what fate would he suffer if he duped underage girls into performing lewd sex acts? No doubt the stiff jail sentences would also be followed by continued public rebuke, slim prospects of further employment, and no chance of regaining respectable standing in his community. Today, for many celebrities, slight of hand, tearful confession, outright lying denial, huge payoffs, or the much used rehab are common strategies for portraying innocence.

And, due to common misbehavior, we constantly judge those with high rank and fame by very relaxed standards. We, as a hoodwinked nation, have come to believe that celebrity lifestyles must ultimately include a measure of lawlessness and criminal behavior. In fact, we tend to expect the worst behavior from the highest rank. We tell ourselves that the pressures of living famously naturally force good people into "bad boy" and "bad boy" behavior. When caught in immoral behavior or in illicit deeds, our highly worshiped celebrities expect special considerations, and we, the public and public officials, are all too glad to grant them extra leniency and often complete clemency.

In the case of offenders, any coverage  -- positive or negative -- is used to enhance their celebrity. The public loves to learn of the newest celebrity scandal as much, or usually more, than the subject's latest good achievement. Famed connections with violence, drugs, and hatred spill from the magazines and television screens of America. Nearly every report seems tainted with charges of misconduct. The public frenzy for scandal is well fed as we, the willing consumers, lower our standards of decency and morality as we see our celebrities stumble with great frequency.

In actuality, exempting the rich and famous from the need to conform to the moral norms and prevailing laws of society makes a mockery of the principle of justice in the United States. Obligations under the law must be the same for all citizens. Until we all understand, respect, and practice this type of justice, we all continue to contribute to the present state of injustice. The public -- we -- have become complacent. We even condone this type of behavior from rich and famous people, those people who should respect the law in order to gain any measure of our mutual admiration.

Here are some reasons celebrities have the upper hand in many criminal cases:

1. Most ordinary people in a non-newsworthy case can't opt to do a lengthy interview that will inevitably sway the jury pool, but many celebrities can and do.

2. Even if the celebrity defendants themselves don't give a widely-reported or widely-viewed interview, loved ones and supporters who are also celebrities can.

3. Many celebrities can afford a gifted lawyer (law team) with tremendous skills.

4. Brilliant lawyers may still be attracted to doing celebrity cases at a low rate - or even for free - because such cases are often challenging and high profile. (After all, one of the benefits of representing a celebrity in a case that will likely be high profile is that the lawyer becomes a celebrity himself.)

5. Just as the media's unearthing of evidence can distract celebrities from focusing on their defense, it can also provide red herrings that can help guilty defendants escape.  

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