Hardball Factor 360°: What Happened to Lady Justice’s Blindfold?

I’m about to do something that I hoped I would never do, but what I feel compelled to write at this time will likely involve me invoking the name of Justin Bieber.

As I’m sure everybody and their grandmother knows (because “news” in the U.S. has all but completely broken down–though that’s a topic for another day) wealthy Canadian pop music star Justin Bieber was arrested recently for drag racing his luxury sports car in a residential Miami neighborhood while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs.

I don’t know what is going to happen to Bieber as his prosecution unfolds, but I guarantee it won’t be fair. The U.S. Justice System appears to have a fatal flaw in that it seems to completely break down whenever wealth or fame become a factor.

I’m reminded in particular of two cases. Most recently, the world scoffed when the 16-year-old child of a wealthy Texan couple managed to kill four and injure nine while driving a large truck under the heavy influence of alcohol. He received 10 years’ probation and a stay in an exclusive Californian rehab facility. His defense centered around the fact that he was too wealthy and privileged to understand that his actions had consequences.

For reference’s sake, the typical punishment in Texas for intoxicated manslaughter does include jail time. In 2007, according to KTRE, another 16-year-old boy killed a pregnant mother while driving under the influence in an East Texas town.

That young man received a 20 year prison sentence. He was also a decidedly unprivileged illegal alien.

The extreme divergence in punishments between the two nearly identical cases (save the fact that the wealthier child killed/injured several more people than Arrellano did) serves as a signal of a larger and more disturbing trend: society has apparently developed a habit of excusing wealthy people their poor behavior.

That said, another case comes to mind–one that seemed to captivate the nation (must have been a slow news month) when I was still in high school: the DUI arrest of heiress and reality star Paris Hilton. Without getting too much into specifics of the case, Hilton was arrested for driving with a suspended license – a misdemeanor charge that in California would typically only require the offender to go on probation, maybe pick up a bit of trash on the side of the freeway. Instead, Hilton was sent to a county jail for 45 days, an extremely harsh sentence that even the county sheriff argued was incredibly excessive.

Many have argued that the judge in the case, knowing that public sentiment against Hilton was quite high, deliberately gave her a harsh sentence to curry public favor; Superior Court Justices in California are elected by county residents.

I see two possible outcomes for Bieber. One: he could go to court and get off with nigh more than a slap on the wrist, his bad behavior excused as happens all too often for the wealthy. Two: the judge involved could hope to make an example of Bieber and give him an extraordinarily harsh sentence.

Unfortunately, from where I stand, the only thing Bieber is unlikely to face in court is justice.

Our courts, like the statues that adorn their inner halls, should be blind. Justice should not unduly favor or punish anyone because of their wealth, status, race, etc. When laws and sentencing become ‘squishy’–as they have–the system breaks down.
I know it’s a difficult pill to swallow, particularly because he appears to be such a wholly unpleasant person, but we should all be fighting for Mr. Bieber’s fair treatment right now.