05/19/05 — Judging justice: Celebrity trials raise question of fairness

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Judging justice: Celebrity trials raise question of fairness

Some people might wonder why celebrity trials get so much attention these days.

Part of the reason is the celebrity him or herself. Americans have a fascination with the misteps and misdeeds of the rich and famous.

But there is another reason to have paid close attention to the O.J. Simpson trial, Robert Downey Jr.’s legal tangles and most recently, the Michael Jackson trial.

Each points to some real issues in our judicial system.

There is still debate today whether the not guilty verdict in the Simpson trial was just, and Downey has had so many probation opportunities, and violations, he could almost have installed his own drive-thru sentencing window at the courthouse. And, although there are questions swirling in the Jackson trial, there will probably be an eyebrow-raiser or two there, too.

And then you read a story about a man who spends 30-plus years in prison for stealing a television set, and you wonder about proportion, and if money really does allow some people to speak a little bit louder than others.

Celebrities win big trials because they can afford the best representation. Sometimes they win simply because they are innocent, but sometimes, people who appear guilty seem to be made of Teflon when it comes time for them to answer criminal charges. Their lawyers are paid to make them that way. A good lawyer does everything he or she can to make sure his or her client gets the best deal possible.

Representation also factors into the sentencing process as well. A good pitch, a well-crafted response, can affect the amount of time a person does for a crime.

And the questions do not just come up during celebrity trials, either.

Not every decision in every courtroom is just. There are too many variables, too many factors that can conspire to set a guilty man free or an innocent one to jail.

And there is no real reason to feel too sorry for someone who breaks the law. The Johnston County man who stole the TV broke a law and did scare an 80-year-old woman while committing his crime.He deserved time, and should have been sentencedto it.

But this case and others like it suggest there is a need to look a little bit harder at what punishments fit which crimes, and if our judicial system might need a bit of an overhaul.

Published in Editorials on May 19, 2005 11:56 AM