This is the first part of a three-part blog series addressing the influence of celebrity on legal system.
O.J. Simpson could potentially get more jail time for his current court case (the Vegas armed robbery/kidnapping) than he would have if he had been found guilty in his infamous double murder trial in 1995. If he’s convicted, that is.
When it comes to the power of celebrity in court, the verdict can be a big question mark. Paris Hilton was found guilty, Phil Spector’s case ended in a mistrial, George Michael was just let off on charges of cocaine and cannabis possession, Britney Spears seems to continuously walk the custody line in her multiple court battles, Robert Blake was acquitted in his trial and Michael Jackson … left the country. The list of celebrity court battles and their various outcomes runs as long as the court transcripts from those trials.
What is the value of celebrity in legal issues? It seems like when a celebrity is “let off”—either by a not-guilty verdict or a lesser punishment than the public feels the person deserves—we notice, more so than when a celebrity is found guilty. Is it because a guilty verdict isn’t as newsworthy? Lock them up, throw away the key and onto the next story? Or is it because, as far as celebrity legal troubles are concerned, we start with the baseline assumption that celebrities are more likely to get the VIP treatment in court? Therefore, when the celebrity is acquitted or receives a lesser punishment, there is the vindicating, massive, public outcry: “Oh, I knew it!”
Ah, if it were only that simple. The issue of celebrity and their legal matters is no more cut-and-dried than anything else related to the law. Think about how complex the concept of celebrity is anyway, even without the legal troubles. The attractive glare of lights, cameras and red carpet comes with its share of baggage.
In legal matters, these pros and cons become more crystallized than ever, as the most intimate of details of the celebrity’s personal and financial life are laid out in a distinctly non-glamorous way for the world to see. And sometimes, the things we learn are rather shocking.
Think about when you first heard about the grisly double murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman and the alleged connection to former football superstar O.J. Simpson. We just couldn’t believe that this all-American athlete would be capable of doing something this horrible.
Because of the front-row access we have to celebrities, they can become like neighbors we’ve known all our lives. When the disturbing details of their alleged crimes start coming out, it’s hard for us to accept what we’re hearing. It’s hard for us to believe that the people we’ve grown up with are capable of doing wrong. In some cases, we elevate celebrities to the level of family members and friends. We know so much about them from following their careers on television, in magazines and newspapers, and soaking in the details of personal interviews where they look directly into the camera and share their innermost thoughts with us.
This type of perceived intimacy falls under the “pro” side of celebrity, particularly when it comes to selecting a jury pool. As diligently as the courts screen potential jurors for possible bias toward a celebrity, when a celebrity’s star shines brightly enough, this becomes an immense challenge for the courts and a potential advantage for the celebrity.
Another advantage is access to the best lawyers that money can buy. Depending on the wealth of the celebrity, this can be a substantial advantage in the courtroom, especially if the defendant is on the other end of the money scale, basically left to fight it out with whatever resources they have.
However, as any high-profile litigant would be quick to tell you (ask Paris), celebrity can be a double-edged sword. When the sword falls in the courtroom, the effects on life as a celebrity knows it—their freedoms, the lifestyle they are accustomed to, their bank balance, the future of their career and their reputation amongst their fans—can be devastating.
Check back for Part Two of “VIP Legal: Celebrity in Court” next week!
Causes Cristina Perez Supports
• Board of Trustees, Trustee, Padres Contra el Cancer, 2004-present
• Chair, Curriculum Center, American Immigration Law Foundation, 2006