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Free Paris!:
Paris Hilton has been let out of jail after five days; her sentence was changed to home confinement in light of an "unspecified medical condition." I know all VC readers join me in urging Governor Schwarzenegger to pardon Paris Hilton immediately. The case against Paris was terribly unfair: she was jailed on a mere technicality, namely violating the terms of her probation. Shockingly, the prosecutors never came forward with a single iota of evidence that Hilton actually harmed anyone. None. Nada. And yet the prosecutors ran amok, piling charges upon charges against her. Our commitment to the rule of law -- not to mention homage to Alexander Hamilton and Federalist No. 74 -- demands that Paris must be set free from her cruel home confinement immediately.
KevinM:
The sort of medical condition you'd expect her to contract suggests a diagnostic inquiry: "Is Paris burning?"
Thank you ... thank you very much.
6.7.2007 3:19pm
plunge (mail):
Apparently the "medical condition" is that she refused to eat prison food.

I'll let every African-American in prison for mere possession of mary jane know that they can be let out simply by refusing to eat. Thousands will be released to home arrest so they can be with their families!
6.7.2007 3:25pm
Steve:
This funny post raises an interesting point. Which makes a bigger mockery of the rule of law - Paris Hilton's truncated sentence or Bush's hypothetical pardon of Libby?

I'd have to say Paris brings the law into greater discredit, which suggests that maybe we worry too much about politics.
6.7.2007 3:32pm
JBL:
"We'll always have Paris." Or maybe not.
6.7.2007 3:34pm
CJColucci:
On the general subject, I was very sorry that for reasons of timing, we never got to see Martha Stewart and Li'l Kim as cell-mates.
6.7.2007 3:34pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
I think Paris and Libby should be confined to live together.

They could even do a new TV show, sort of a variation of the Simple Life meets Dick Cheney.

Then, Bush could pardon them and Fox TV, for any FCC violations, thus completing the circle of recent volokh postings.
6.7.2007 3:34pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I'm sure Prof. Kerr agrees w/ Prof. Adler that commutation of her sentence is the appropriate compromise.

--Excellent, Kevin M.!
6.7.2007 3:35pm
r78:
OK - bravo!
6.7.2007 3:35pm
Just an Observer:
The defining quote of the episode the other day:

"In the future," reads a statement from Paris Hilton, "I plan on taking more of an active role in the decisions I make."

To which Peter Suderman remarked at The Corner, "Perhaps Alberto Gonzales has a future as a socialite."
6.7.2007 3:36pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
Her "medical condition" was freaking out with severe panic attacks after 3 days (not 5, as I recall) in solitary confinement (23 hours a day). I don't know if anyone here has seen the TV show "30 Days" but in one of the episodes, Morgan Spurlock spent 3 days in solitary confinement at one point during his 30 day stint at the county jail and went completely nuts.

Paris should never have been put in jail in the first place. But what really bothers me is that nobody else at the jail having panic attacks was let out early so they could go home and cuddle up in their mansion with a bottle of xanax. If it were any of us, we'd still be locked up. But at the same time, there would not be crowds of people joyfully cheering and screaming at the news of any of us being put in jail for 23 days due to driving with a suspended license. So maybe it evens out in the end.
6.7.2007 3:37pm
Esquire:
I have been disturbed at how much of the focus has been on things unrelated to driving with a suspended license (the ordinary penalty for which, I understand, to be a mere extension of the suspension). The judge also didn't believe that she fails to read her own mail and doesn't read what she signs -- but both strike me as eminently believable (even if unwise!).

The criminal justice system is not supposed to be some vehicle for the public to vent frustration at celebrities whom we deem to be arrogant, spoiled, or supposedly in need of a character-building experience...

This reminds me of the jurors and pundits from the Martha Stewart case complaining about rich/important people needing to be "taken down a peg," etc. (Somebody actually even held it against her that she was wearing a $12,000 purse to court...like that's supposed to be a crime?)

I'm no big fan of celebrities in general, and I don't care to join in most popular obsessions -- but I feel we certainly have no right to "make special examples" of them or some such.
6.7.2007 3:39pm
MikeC&F (mail):
The same people who supported this think Fitzgerald went too far? How? Why?
6.7.2007 3:44pm
tjvm:
If you're angry about Ms. Hilton being released early, you'll be relieved to know that she hasn't actually been released after all. The Sheriff's spokesman explained that she's just been "reassigned":

"Whitmore made it clear that Paris was not released early -- she was reassigned. She is technically still in custody."

http://www.tmz.com/2007/06/07/cops-paris-under-house-arrest/
6.7.2007 3:45pm
rarango (mail):
Never fear: for those of you who want to follow this story, the cable news networks are giving around the clock coverage!
6.7.2007 4:01pm
Public_Defender (mail):
The person who will suffer for this is the next unknown poor slob who really does face serious, life-threatening or permanent-injury-threatening consequences for an extended time in jail. There needs to be safety valve--a county jail sentence shouldn't be a death sentence.

As usual, the consequences for Paris Hilton's prima donna behavior will fall on someone else.
6.7.2007 4:10pm
JohnThompson (mail):
Your question is a foolish one, Steve, for clearly nothing has the potential for making a mockery of our system like a "hypothetical" question--especially if said hypothetical manages to drag Bush or Hitler into conversations that have no conceiveable relevance to either. Of course, we all know that under a democrat administration, Hollywood types would be treated like dogs. Everyone knows that Republicans are the party of brainless actors and "musicians", right? P.S. Can we start imposing an i.q. requirement for posting, or would that just eliminate all liberals?
6.7.2007 4:10pm
fffff:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message She is Free.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

Her confinement was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that her sentence would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
6.7.2007 4:11pm
NaG (mail):
Esquire: Actually, my understanding is that what Paris got for driving on a suspended license was precisely what she should have gotten. Nobody went overboard trying to get her in jail.

BruceM: There are thousands upon thousands of people who are serving time in similar or worse circumstances than Paris was, and they aren't freaking out. People deal. Now, if Paris was getting assaulted by vicious thugs during her time at the jail, that would be one thing. But if sitting alone in a jail cell for 23 hours a day and eating bad food causes you to go off the deep end after three measly days, then you're a damn wimp. Any "street cred" Paris might have enjoyed as a result of her prison stint is now long gone. She can't hang. She's just a spoiled little brat. She should be Martha Stewart's bitch.

Surely the cops must have known that to release Paris early like this would bring on calls of "unequal justice." They knew that the media would be demanding to know why Paris gets home confinement while thousands of others do not. But what do they do? They make the reason for the release confidential! Let's see, what's more important: Upholding the integrity of the justice system (if Paris' medical reason for release was significant, it would help reduce the outrage for everyone to know what it is) or the privacy of some socialite-whose-sexual-exploits-are-Internet-fodder? The cops made the wrong choice. The only reason to hide the "medical condition" is if the condition is bullhockey. Thus, the whole thing only adds fuel to the claim that "the rich get a different, and better, justice than everybody else." And that is incredibly regrettable.
6.7.2007 4:19pm
Peter Young:
Paris Hilton was made an example of and she ought not to have been in jail in the first place.

I was once in solitary confinement for four or five days--it was the treatment given all juvenile offenders on arrest in California in the Fifties as a way of softening them up--and it's very unpleasant. "Volari" was the number one pop hit on the radio at the time, and it was played every 15 minutes or so from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., piped into the cells with no way of shutting it off; it drove me almost to the breaking point and I can't stand it to this day. Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blue to you, too.

So I think it's fair to say solitary could have a harsh psychological impact on someone as pampered and coddled and delicate as Paris Hilton. It doesn't bother me that she's out of jail; she's still being punished through home detention depriving her of the social activities on which she thrives, and I doubt very much she will again drive under the influence or without a valid license since she can afford to hire a chauffeur if she needs to. Leave the poor girl alone; she has to memorize the lines she and her friends deliver on live TV appearances--"shit" and "fuck" and the like, per Tuesday's post "Is Kevin Martin Indecent?"
6.7.2007 4:23pm
OK Lawyer:
I guess being a complete waste of space and human skin is a "medical condition" but I never thought it could set someone free from prison.
6.7.2007 4:27pm
FC:
It would have been more analogous if the witnesses against Paris Hilton had been Lindsay Lohan and Courtney Love.
6.7.2007 4:29pm
Phantom (mail):
Esquire--

I don't know, it's been my experience in the criminal justice system that when you violate your probation, you can expect to spend a few days in jail, if for no other reason than to remind you why probation is better. Most of my clients who violate get to enjoy at least a weekend as a guest of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Department.

NaG--

Actually, recent statistical evidence coming from our nation's prisons (which unfortunately, I lack access to at this time), suggests that "ad-seg" or solitary confinement tends to cause or exacerbate mental illness. The problem for most of the folks who are enjoying a little alone time is that no one cares about their situations.

--PtM
6.7.2007 4:30pm
JK:
To correct any misconception, people very often do get jail time for driving on a suspended license. Particularly when the judge believes that the defendant is lying. I once saw a defendant get something like six months (although that was for about the 12th offense).
6.7.2007 4:38pm
The Drill SGT:
The judge also didn't believe that she fails to read her own mail and doesn't read what she signs -- but both strike me as eminently believable (even if unwise!).

Likely what the judge found incredible, was that with all her money and with her demonstrated lack of common sense, there:
a. wasn't an adult (e.g. lawyer, business manager) who read her stuff, told her what to sign, and
b. didn't explain to poor little Paris why she coudn't drive.

What we used to call in the Army, "Gross lack of judgement"

Her lawyers should be disbarred or at least sued for malpractice :)
6.7.2007 4:39pm
Francis (mail):
according to the public defenders i know, her sentence was in line with what everyone gets from that judge for the same offense -- not stricter nor more lenient.
6.7.2007 4:49pm
John A. Fleming (mail):
So, lets tally it up.
Clinton lies, nothing much happens to him.
Sandy Burglar lies and steals, nothing much happens to him.
Scooter lies, 30 months and big fine.
Paris cries and refuses to eat prison food, they let her go.
{from another post here)some lady deals crystal meth, gets 292 months.

And all you Justice system professionals think our legal system works and is just peachy-keen?

I'm an engineer, I deal in results. If we engineers designed our products like you guys practice law, we'd be killing people by the bucketloads every day from our product failures, and thumbing our noses at you all, telling you to take it or leave it, and by the way we're indemnified from our mistakes.

There's something rotten in Denmark, and you legal professionals seem to think that's OK, partisan results trump fair administration of justice. And a not insignificant amount of legal roadkill is acceptable because your intentions are honorable, and no legal system is perfect. Feh. How about we design airplanes like you guys administer law? Fair trade?

Yeah, yeah, different jurisdictions, prosecutor discretion, sentencing guidelines, yada yada. Results, baby. And as Prof. Kerr so humorously pointed out in this post, legal results suck.
6.7.2007 4:52pm
Anon. E. Mouse (mail):
Wow.

Not only does it escape the intelligentsia that NHTSA already directly regulates automobile CO2 emissions through CAFE standards....they now call for oil companies to "to reduce the carbon content of their fuel offerings."

UFB. What next, repeal the 2nd law of thermodynamics?

I just can't get my mind around such a level of ignorance about how the physical world works.
6.7.2007 5:03pm
Anon. E. Mouse (mail):
What would be even dumber -- cross post into the wrong thread!
6.7.2007 5:04pm
K:
Apparently release after about 10% of timed served is the norm for the overcrowded LA area jails. Nonviolent, low risk? Walk!

This says much more about LA Law* than about Paris. She actually seems to be one of the more sensible among her crowd (admittedly a frightening thought).

* copyrighted. And sure not by me.
6.7.2007 5:09pm
NaG (mail):
Fleming: Well, THIS legal professional doesn't think it's "okay" at all. I will note that it appears the decision to release Paris was made by the Sheriff's department, and not some cabal of "justice is our plaything" lawyers.

Phantom: I remember taking a tour of my local (Northern Virginia) jail just a few years ago. All the men were in cells with cellmates, and the cells would open up to a common area that they would have periodic access to. The women's section of the prison, however, were all solitary cells. I asked the warden why this was. His answer: Because the incidence of rape/forced sodomy among women prisoners was so high that cellmates were no longer allowed.

I have not read studies that confirm this, and I don't know whether this is a common phenomenon or only occurs in the jail in my locality, but it seems like there may be a strong policy argument for why a female prisoner like Paris was put in 23-hour solitary confinement. Unless Nicole Richie was her cellmate, I'd guess many common female prisoners would have enjoyed the chance to make Paris' life a living hell.

Besides, the notion that "nobody cared" about Paris in solitary is ridiculous. She had people circulating petitions for The Governator to pardon her. She got visits during her short little stay. Her stint in prison has been freaking front-page news. Al Sharpton wishes people cared about his civil disobedience stunts like they've cared about Paris.
6.7.2007 5:14pm
whit:
"Paris should never have been put in jail in the first place."

look, i am more libertarian than most (against the drug war, for instance) but cmon.

the issue is not merely that she drove on a suspended license. it is that she knowingly decided to flaunt the rules of her probation (don't drive at all) and did it TWO TIMES - once on the 15th and once on the 27th knowing full well she was prohibited from doing soo.

furthermore, she of all people would not even have a hard time complying, since she can afford a private driver to take her anywhere she wants.

on a comparative basis, california is relatively harsh on traffic offenses. i've heard that from cops in cali, and they are certainly way harsher than my state.

but that's not the point. the issue is NOT merely driving on a suspended license. the issue is doing it IN VIOLATION of probation.

when her medical condition clears up, i think she should have to serve at least another week.
6.7.2007 5:17pm
Horatio (mail):
Yeah, yeah, different jurisdictions, prosecutor discretion, sentencing guidelines, yada yada. Results, baby. And as Prof. Kerr so humorously pointed out in this post, legal results suck.


"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers". - (Act IV, Scene II Henry VI (Part 2)by William Shakespeare).
6.7.2007 5:19pm
TyWebb:
JohnThompson--Thanks for clearing it up. Liberals are dumb. Especially when they "drag" the President's name into a discussion (albeit one that now exists in analogy) about...Presidential pardons. Make sure you call Mensa and have them collect their cards--we don't want anyone misrepresenting themselves.

John A. Fleming--Is impeachment "nothing much"?

And, by the way, I'm sure you'd be shocked to find out that, despite what Christopher Columbus Langdell might have thought, law is not an exact science either in theory or as applied. It is not building an airplane. It's closer to economics or, really, alchemy. Do we mess up? Sure. Are we given a windfall for those mistakes, probably more of one than we deserve? Maybe sometimes. I don't think you'd find a lawyer in the entire country who's happy with the way the system works, and many of their gripes go directly to results with no regard for partisan goings-on. Nevertheless, assuming that at some point you have to utter the words, "I need to speak with a lawyer", will you be so willing then to condemn the one that comes to your aid?
6.7.2007 5:19pm
OrinKerr:
John Fleming,

So where is my personal rocket ship to the moon? And where is my car that gets 500 mpg? You engineers can't even seem to do the most simple and basic things! I mean, what on earth do you guys do all day? "It's hard," "it's expensive," I hear. If a lawyer gave clients excuses like that, he wouldn't have any clients!

Okay, on a more serious note, I don't know of any "Justice system professionals" who "think our legal system works and is just peachy-keen." Our legal system is a lot like the people who run it: it works sometimes, but it is and always will be flawed.
6.7.2007 5:24pm
whit:
applying our legal system to a crime, and expecting justice is like applying a rusty dirty butter knife to an abcess.
6.7.2007 5:26pm
NaG (mail):
That's hot.
6.7.2007 5:35pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
What I don't understand is why they didn't tie the sentence into her TV show, and have a season of The Simple Life Goes to the Slammer.

Maybe someone should have had her listen to Joe Walsh's classic: Life's Been Good to Me So Far, and then she might understand what a spoiled celebrity does when her license is suspended.
6.7.2007 5:36pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Let her eat cake.
6.7.2007 5:38pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I suppose we can look forward to Paris Hilton's advocacy on behalf of prisoners' rights everywhere.
6.7.2007 5:42pm
Hoosier:
DAMN!

When I saw "FREE PARIS" I naturally thought they were giving her away.
6.7.2007 5:42pm
The Drill SGT:
I'm surprised that Paris wasn't required to waive some level of medical privacy in order to keep the judicial system from looking like complete idiots, as they do now :)

in order to get what she wanted. which was home detention
6.7.2007 5:47pm
ys:
Just an Observer:
The defining quote of the episode the other day:

"In the future," reads a statement from Paris Hilton, "I plan on taking more of an active role in the decisions I make."

To which Peter Suderman remarked at The Corner, "Perhaps Alberto Gonzales has a future as a socialite."


Leaving alone any kind of Gonzales, with a little more polish it might just become another Yogi Berrism.
6.7.2007 5:48pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
Stuff like this is probably only slightly more destructive to the public's respect for the law than all those rap stars who get rich off of not-singing about all the crimes they've committed. The cumulative effect is bad, but I doubt this is even as significant as the proverbial straw (which broke, etc.)

I decided it's generally a lot easier to get through life if you're rich (and that being famous is as often a detriment as a benefit) when I was about 10 years old (I waited so long because I'm naive and try to think the best of people) -- I don't see this incident as a challenge to that assumption. My reasoning in this situation: Paris got out because a) she has a lot of money, several lawyers, and at least one talented publicist and b) the LA county sheriff's office was already freaking out about potential "your prisons are total hellholes" statements in the media (they've already released at least one statement defending living conditions in the facilities in question.)

Paris Hilton, and her parents, are probably sufficiently pleased by the brevity of her ~76 hour stay (and worried about how her 42-days-in-a-mansion replacement sentence must look) that they won't go around trashing the facilities or personnel in the press. LA doesn't have to deal with her being however uncooperative as she was, or the risk that during that hour of not-solitary time she'd find a way of getting herself injured. The whole thing costs a lot less than it would have (in part because the Hiltons went out of their way to avoid creating expensive and annoying media scenes when she surrendered herself, and when she left.) Everyone wins! As a matter of fact, her statement reads, in part: "I want to thank the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and staff of the Century Regional Detention Center for treating me fairly and professionally." See?

Also, it's pleasing to me that our local (central Ohio) obnoxious radio DJs have been so very sad that they weren't able to see her go to jail (there was some sort of trip out to LA just to broadcast it live.) I give the unnamed but intelligent member of the Hilton camp who had the idea to go in early, full credit.
6.7.2007 6:06pm
Ben Pollitzer (mail):
Regarding her sentence.

One thing that has not mentioned so far in the argument over whether or not she deserved her sentence is that she supposedly showed up about 15 minutes late to her hearing.

Whether or not one customarily gets jail time for violating probation, I would imagine that making the judge angry by showing up late is a much more sure way of not getting let off easy.
6.7.2007 6:07pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
I'm sorry, but while I imagine she might be easy, I very much doubt she's free.
6.7.2007 6:12pm
Houston Lawyer:
I read somewhere that about of one-third of people in prison are there because of probation or parole violations. I have two step-nephews, not related to me by blood, that are constantly in and out of custody. Their crimes are usually minor, including vandalism and sales of controlled substances, but it is the probation that trips them up. Somehow they can't stop hanging out with other criminals or taking drugs in the days before a scheduled pee test.

One incident involved getting stopped by the police while driving the wrong way down a one-way street. He was in the car with other convicts with a shotgun. They claimed they were going spotlighting for rabits. Horse whipping would be an appropriate punishment for such blatant stupidity, but we are not allowed that option and must pay money to house these idiots in jail.
6.7.2007 6:18pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Houston, my assessment of the habitues of district court exactly.

Although I don't understand why Hilton didn't use her get-out-of-jail-free card.

When my younger daughter was about 11 she had a school holiday and I took her to work, which that day involved covering a hearing in district court (our municipal or lowest court). We watched a couple dozen sad sacks shuffle up for sentencing.

As we left Scooter told me, 'I get it. You tell the judge you've found Jesus and he lets you go.'
6.7.2007 6:27pm
OK Lawyer:
Contrast her story and "punishment" to the NFL's Tank Johnson's punishment.

http://cbs2chicago.com/local/local_story_133071816.html

Both probation violations. one does 60 days, one does 3. Guess which one is which.
6.7.2007 6:48pm
anonVCfan:
perhaps Paris will start rapping about snitches.
6.7.2007 6:59pm
theobromophile (www):

If we engineers designed our products like you guys practice law, we'd be killing people by the bucketloads every day from our product failures, and thumbing our noses at you all, telling you to take it or leave it, and by the way we're indemnified from our mistakes.


I dream of getting lawyer-types to understand feedback loops, double-blind studies, and various other results-oriented methods of testing a system.
6.7.2007 7:00pm
Daniel950:
Stuff like this is probably only slightly more destructive to the public's respect for the law...


WHAT respect for the law? The law is a plaything of judges and the politically or personally connected. From viewing the video of the sheriff's explanation on releasing Paris Hilton from the jail, it's clear he let her off because he admires her personally. Jane crack-whore won't get that kind of treatment, if she were in the same boat.

If the People were truly sovereign in this country, Paris would spend all 45 days in jail.
6.7.2007 7:24pm
The Original TS (mail):
You guys aren't getting the amazing thing about this story. With all the bitter divisiveness over immigration, the presidential race and the war in Iraq, there's finally something that liberals and conservatives, republicans and democrats, can completely agree on. It may take a village to raise a child but it takes Paris to unite a country.

Seriously, it is truly amazing how pretty much everyone completely gets that the naked manipulation of the justice system by those with the money and contacts to do so is not a good thing. You have to love this question from the press conference,

"During a press conference Thursday morning, a reporter asked Whitmore, "What's your comment to people who say she played you like a puppet on a string — she came in here, didn't like it, it was hard and she got out?"

That really says it all.
6.7.2007 8:28pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Apparently release after about 10% of timed served is the norm for the overcrowded LA area jails. Nonviolent, low risk? Walk!

Is this correct? And do you have a source for it? If it's correct, it means that you're letting facts get in the way of the story that Hilton got special treatment.

It wouldn't surprise me if it were true. Penalties for misdemeanors are, ehem, flexible in many jurisdictions. Taxpayers don't want to fund all the jail time they want their courts to inflict. So compromises like this are worked out.

Sometimes, they try to impose those costs on the defendants, but that creates collections and rehabilitation problems because most defendants aren't hotel heiresses. They don't have the money to pay, and collection efforts would destroy any incentive the have to try to lead a productive life.
6.7.2007 8:42pm
Another engineer:
John A. Fleming wrote:
If we engineers designed our products like you guys practice law, we'd be killing people by the bucketloads every day from our product failures, and thumbing our noses at you all, telling you to take it or leave it, and by the way we're indemnified from our mistakes.
The fundamental problem is that while there's a giant market for products that work, there is no market for justice. There's huge demand for vengeance, but that's not the same thing.

Orin Kerr wrote:
Our legal system is a lot like the people who run it: it works sometimes, but it is and always will be flawed.
That's not an excuse.
6.7.2007 8:44pm
OrinKerr:
Another engineer:

I'm curious -- what is your recommendation for how we should improve our criminal justice system?
6.7.2007 8:55pm
George Weiss (mail):
another engineer wrote:

The fundamental problem is that while there's a giant market for products that work, there is no market for justice. There's huge demand for vengeance, but that's not the same thing.

so the fundamental problem is that justice is irrevocably diffrent from engineering...shocking!
6.7.2007 9:01pm
Public_Defender (mail):
How did these engineering and law comments end up in the Paris-Hilton-out-of-jail thread instead of here? Does everything inevitably revolve around Paris?
6.7.2007 9:36pm
Another engineer:
Prof. Kerr:

Well, okay ...

If by "we" you mean "the people who run [the criminal justice system]", I suppose the answer is: be less flawed. In this case, I'm not talking about honest mistakes, but rather about improper motives, which those people (I hope) have some control over.

If by "we" you mean "society", then a couple of answers come to mind right off the bat: better education of people both about our legal and justice systems and in general, and (more controversially, I admit) making fewer things crimes.

Now, perhaps you were looking for something more along the lines of the criminal justice system's structure and operation. I bet there's much that can be done in that respect, as well.

But the fact that I don't have the magic solution to the problems of the justice system (particularly that there are many others who are much more knowledgeable in this field than I am) doesn't mean we shouldn't be looking to improve it. To me, adopting a complacent attitude and saying, "Life is unfair. Deal with it," is unacceptable.

I don't mean to say that you feel that way. In fact, I'm sure you don't. However, John Fleming expressed his concerns about the problems of the criminal justice system. I don't think saying it "always will be flawed" does anything to ameliorate those concerns.
6.7.2007 9:37pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Is the law different from engineering. Of course. However, this isn't to say that the law could not benefit from a greater degree of scientific rigor. There are a great many legal practices that exist merely because they are traditional or 'common sense.'

For instance take a look at judges standards for what sort of evidence has more probative value than prejudicial effect. Psychological studies and models of decision making could help make these conclusions a lot better and more equitable.

One can do a ton of different studies to help make the law reach results everyone would agree are better. While I disagree with the breadth and over simplicity of some of the earlier critiques I have to agree that the study of law seems far too isolated and uninfluenced by many of the modern advances in science, statistics and psychology. Sure these things seep in but because the standard for success in the law is whatever old lawyers, i.e., judges, believe it is there is an in built bias against incorporating things lawyers don't tend to understand.

Ultimately my recommendation would simply be that law schools should require lawyers to take more statistics and science classes. Perhaps a very mild reform but I do think the criticism has more than a kernel of truth to it.
6.7.2007 9:38pm
Another engineer:
George Weiss:

Actually, no, that's not what I said. In this case, justice is an outcome. Engineering is an activity people engage in.

Public_Defender:

In my defense: he started it. *points*
6.7.2007 9:49pm
K:
Public_: I perhaps should have said 'not unusual' rather than 'the norm'.

But there is a source in what seems to be a well thought out article. Linda is a good reporter.

http://www.fresnobee.com/384/story/52395.html

(I don't like to paste live links. Technical stuff baffles me. As engineers suspect, law does erode logic until none is left).

Apparently she succeeded with a medical ploy. Or maybe it is real. But having good legal advice helps - she got credit for one day served by checking in just before midnight, another day for being sent home just after midnight.

It seems the baloney may have been sliced too thin. News reports are now saying the judge and prosecution are disgruntled and she must appear at a hearing 9 AM Friday. Anyone think she will be too sick to get there?
6.7.2007 9:49pm
Public_Defender (mail):
But having good legal advice helps - she got credit for one day served by checking in just before midnight, another day for being sent home just after midnight.

I can tell you that this is standard. Anyone who is permitted to turn theirselves in would do the same thing.

Jails and prisons count even one minute on a day as incarceration for the full day. So, if you are going to get arrested (and I don't advise that you do), do it in time to get booked into the jail by 11:59 p.m.

Despite the frivolity of this topic, there is a serious side. As I noted above, the system has safety valves to deal with those rare inmates for whom jail and prison would be especially damaging. General anxiety is not enough. I'm afraid that Hilton's abuse (use?) of this procedure close the door on defendants for whom it is appropriate.

It would be sad if a paranoid schizophrenic got driven even deeper into madness because jail officials mistakenly thought she was pulling a Paris Hilton stunt.
6.7.2007 10:09pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
George Weiss sez: 'there is no market for justice'

Sure there is. Any time you have competing choices, you have a market. Lawyers shop around for venues, between federal and state jurisdictions, among jurdisdictions etc.

S.B Chrimes, in 'English Constitutional History' explained how the king's justice drove the barons' courts out of business by being (even if only marginally) less bribe-driven.

As for applying engineering or other objective studies to law: At the very least, the law needs to take cognizance of the work of Elizabeth Loftus ('Eyewitness Testimony'), but I don't see the law doing so. Her research, which is solid, has been out for 30 years now.
6.7.2007 10:19pm
What to do, what to do?:
Engineers who don't like our law system:

Which country do you think does a better job of administering justice?
6.7.2007 10:52pm
George Weiss (mail):
Another engineer:
George Weiss:

Actually, no, that's not what I said. In this case, justice is an outcome. Engineering is an activity people engage in.

ok so the legal system is irrevocably different from engineering...the argument still applies

Public_Defender:
How did these engineering and law comments end up in the Paris-Hilton-out-of-jail thread instead of here [a diffrent post]? Does everything inevitably revolve around Paris?


that post was posted considerably after this post about paris..i couldnt have gone forward in time to post there
6.7.2007 11:05pm
George Weiss (mail):
Harry Eagar (mail):
George Weiss sez: 'there is no market for justice'

Sure there is. Any time you have competing choices, you have a market. Lawyers shop around for venues, between federal and state jurisdictions, among jurdisdictions etc.

S.B Chrimes, in 'English Constitutional History' explained how the king's justice drove the barons' courts out of business by being (even if only marginally) less bribe-driven.


that hardly makes law a market...rules about choice of law are rules of law as well...
6.7.2007 11:08pm
Another engineer:
George Weiss:

To the extent that engineering and law try to achieve certain goals, they are the same.
6.7.2007 11:33pm
UVALawGoon:
Paris isn't free yet, FYI.

Looks like the judge and the DA are both upset about it.
6.7.2007 11:44pm
George Weiss (mail):
Another engineer:
George Weiss:

To the extent that engineering and law try to achieve certain goals, they are the same.


gee...almost all objects are the same in that they are all made of matter....


you have to to better than that
6.7.2007 11:46pm
Another engineer:
George Weiss:

Okay, let me explain. You sarcastically mocked my comment by claiming that all I had said was the law and engineering are different. Indeed, they are different in many respects. But they do have something in common. "To the extent that engineering and law try to achieve certain goals, they are the same."

My point (directed to John Fleming) was that incentive structures go a long way in explaining why one effort may be more successful than the other. No need to be dismissive.
6.7.2007 11:56pm
simpsons reference:
Maybe the refernce to matter is the key to the difference between engineering and law.

Once you engineer something, you have matter. When you adjudicate something, you do not have matter. You have something intangible, something you cannot hold in your hand ... justice.

In the Simpsons, the scientist invented a maching that would "only transport matter" ... that machine could transport what engineers create, but it could not transport what lawyers create.
6.7.2007 11:58pm
George Weiss (mail):
Another engineer:
George Weiss:

Okay, let me explain. You sarcastically mocked my comment by claiming that all I had said was the law and engineering are different. Indeed, they are different in many respects. But they do have something in common. "To the extent that engineering and law try to achieve certain goals, they are the same."

My point (directed to John Fleming) was that incentive structures go a long way in explaining why one effort may be more successful than the other. No need to be dismissive.



there are several reasons to be sarcastic and or dismissive to you



1. your original post is an unfair criticism of the law by cherry picking cases you think went badly..without any to suggestions of how its improved..comparisons to the efficiency other systems or regard to the gradual improvements in law over time...its typical hard science snobbery over everyone else

2. there is no way to have market competition for law..the law is a preequisite for a market system..period....the law must enforce contracts property and the peace...face it..not everything can be a market..esp the law

3. when you responded to my first objection..you made a transparently irrelevant distinctions like justice as a product vs as a system
(i know you didn't expect that to work)

4. your still defending the idea of a market structure by making nearly irrelevant general statements like "they both have goals"
6.8.2007 12:40am
simpsons reference:
There can be one way to have a market for laws. If I wanted to incorporate a company, I could choose to incorporate it under the laws of the United States, China, North Korea, Cuba, or any other country. (granted, there are other factors that will decide where I start my company, but choosing the best rule of law to operate under plays more than a minor role)

This shows that the U.S. does pretty well on the "law market" (if that is what it is). Companies continue to incorporate here b/c the rule of law fosters a healthy market (where the products created by engineers have copyright protections, will not be nationalized, and where engineers are provided with employment protection laws).
6.8.2007 1:16am
Another engineer:
(George Weiss's comments in italics.)

1. your original post is an unfair criticism of the law by cherry picking cases you think went badly..without any to suggestions of how its improved..comparisons to the efficiency other systems or regard to the gradual improvements in law over time...its typical hard science snobbery over everyone else

It don't think it's unfair. Any single bad result indicates that there is room for improvement. Lack of suggestions for improvement does not make the criticism illegitimate.

Also, I don't really appreciate being boxed in by your stereotypical view of engineers. Indeed, I work in the engineering profession. This does not imply anything about my beliefs or capacity to be reasonable.

2. there is no way to have market competition for law..the law is a preequisite for a market system..period....the law must enforce contracts property and the peace...face it..not everything can be a market..esp the law

I disagree. People who are responsible for administering justice will do so as long as society demands it. If they do not, they can be replaced.

3. when you responded to my first objection..you made a transparently irrelevant distinctions like justice as a product vs as a system
(i know you didn't expect that to work)


Well, if you're going to talk down to me, be precise.

4. your still defending the idea of a market structure by making nearly irrelevant general statements like "they both have goals"

At least provide some justification for your assertion that it's not relevant. I think it is. (See above.)
6.8.2007 1:38am
BruceM (mail) (www):
So what if she flaunted her violation of driving without a license (assuming "flaunting" is what actually happened)? There are some rules that, no matter how blatantly people flaunt their violations of them, incarceration is simply not proper. This is true for ALL victimless malum prohibitum offenses.

And yes, driving with a suspended license IS a victimless crime. We let anyone drive, there are no standards. Suspending a drivers license is nothing more than a financial resource for local governments who collect reinstatement fees. She was not endangering people by driving with a suspended license any more than she would have been had she paid the reinsatement fee and got her license back.

If we were serious about driver qualifications, we'd actually have difficult tests for people to pass before they could drive (like getting a pilot's license). If you can make a left turn you can get a drivers license in any state in the country.
6.8.2007 1:53am
George Weiss (mail):
revoke the license compleletly..shell hire a driver..no biggy.

i think 45 days (then 23 forgood beahvior) was approrpriate...suspension is part of the process of saying..hey take it easy when driving..if you break that..you have to step up the punishment.



i belive that people given sentences that are nessasrily local (usually less than 12 month sentences are served at the local jail not prision)..that the sheriffs dept has the right to let people go early for overcrowding and it happens all the time

OTHO but they said nothing about overcrowding..just about "health"..which is probly a BS and unfair reason)

i dont understand why the judge originally rejected upgraded jail accommodations (which they do in LA all the time for people who have local jail sentences all the time.its 82 buks a day last time i checked..a major reveunue generator.see..

registration required..its cause she paris i bet.

my prediction..she goes back but the judge allows upgraded accommodations.im sure the sherrif and the city attorney can agree on that revenue
6.8.2007 2:19am
NickM (mail) (www):

And yes, driving with a suspended license IS a victimless crime. We let anyone drive, there are no standards. Suspending a drivers license is nothing more than a financial resource for local governments who collect reinstatement fees. She was not endangering people by driving with a suspended license any more than she would have been had she paid the reinsatement fee and got her license back.



Please come back when you have some idea what you're talking about. No, hating prosecutors and judges doesn't count as having an idea.

Hilton's license was suspended after her conviction for reckless driving with alcohol involved. You don't get to pay a reinstatement fee and get your license back.

And if you consider reckless driving under the influence to be a victimless malum prohibitum crime, I consider you a sociopath.

Nick
6.8.2007 2:19am
simpsons reference:
One argument for Paris's early release is that it is common for people to only serve short sentences b/c of prison overcrowding. But, Paris was going to get a special cell reserved only for special people. Were those cells overcrowded too? If not, then the overcrowding argument is out the window.

BruceM ... I suppose any crime is victimless until it actually hurts someone. But, does that mean we should only punish people after they hurt somebody? Of course not.
6.8.2007 3:10am
Harry Eagar (mail):
'If you can make a left turn you can get a drivers license in any state in the country'

Not true in my county. My newspaper has been covering complaints about drivers' test failure rates for months.
6.8.2007 3:37am
K:
Looks like two ideas got mixed. Overcrowding and Paris.

The LA jail is chronically overcrowded. Courts have repeatedly intervened when conditions were too bad. It is the same at many CA jails. It is not uncommon to release very early because of that. A reputable source says release might come when 10% of time is served.

The story is that Paris was ill. True or not, the Sheriff never said she was released to ease overcrowding. That was a reasonable speculation given the normal overcrowding. But it was speculation.

I can't see how a judge can put her back in jail. How do you show she wasn't ill? How do you show she got favortism? Does the judge even has the authority under CA law to put her back unless she misbehaves. That is to be seen.

The judge can scold the Sheriff but it will be hard to do much more. He is elected and has the authority to deal with prisoners. Theoretically she is just serving the sentence at home.
6.8.2007 4:00am
George Weiss (mail):
K:

I can't see how a judge can put her back in jail. How do you show she wasn't ill? How do you show she got favortism? Does the judge even has the authority under CA law to put her back unless she misbehaves. That is to be seen.

The judge can scold the Sheriff but it will be hard to do much more. He is elected and has the authority to deal with prisoners. Theoretically she is just serving the sentence at home



probaly correct...maybe she can convince the sherrif to change his mind if she lets up on her upgraded accomidations order.
6.8.2007 4:18am
George Weiss (mail):
Another engineer-

again one at a time

1.
i said

your original post is an unfair criticism of the law by cherry picking cases you think went badly..without any to suggestions of how its improved..comparisons to the efficiency other systems or regard to the gradual improvements in law over time...its typical hard science snobbery over everyone else

YOU said
It don't think it's unfair. Any single bad result indicates that there is room for improvement. Lack of suggestions for improvement does not make the criticism illegitimate.

Also, I don't really appreciate being boxed in by your stereotypical view of engineers. Indeed, I work in the engineering profession. This does not imply anything about my beliefs or capacity to be reasonable.

my new response:
you were not just criticising the law..you were saying engineering is BETTER than the law by picking bad specifimens..thats unfair

and actually its not just your profession that im basing my opinions on...its your opinons and belifefs here that "imply sotmhing about your capacity to be reasonable"


2.
ME:
there is no way to have market competition for law..the law is a preequisite for a market system..period....the law must enforce contracts property and the peace...face it..not everything can be a market..esp the law

YOU said:
I disagree. People who are responsible for administering justice will do so as long as society demands it. If they do not, they can be replaced.

me:
in that sence there already is a market then...what are you saying...shorter term limits for judges? prosecuters?


3.
ME:
when you responded to my first objection..you made a transparently irrelevant distinctions like justice as a product vs as a system
(i know you didn't expect that to work)

you:
Well, if you're going to talk down to me, be precise.

Me:
no...its not worth the effort becuase you knew what i meant.


4. your still defending the idea of a market structure by making nearly irrelevant general statements like "they both have goals"

YOU:
At least provide some justification for your assertion that it's not relevant. I think it is. (See above.)

ME:
actually you still ahvnt made any sence of this argument...so they both are trying to do something...this is your basis for comparrision..thats still just as weak as saying all objects can be compared b.c they all have matter...you havnt added anything...repating what you said before doesnt add any logic to it.



you can skip the transcript next post..i can refer back
6.8.2007 4:57am
Another engineer:
George Weiss:

Okay. You win. Measuring the relative success of technology and engineering is a silly concept. My argument only holds if you take Fleming's statement as a given premise. Sorry. I need sleep.

However, I do think that the average person cares more about whether their new iPhone can play MP3s than whether the legal system produces just outcomes. I don't think there's much demand for true justice in our society.
6.8.2007 5:53am
Another engineer:
Wups. Correction: Measuring the relative success of law and engineering is a silly concept.
6.8.2007 5:54am
George Weiss (mail):
another engineer:

yes im sure you do need sleep. (im sure thats also why you said what you did)...

even though engineers and law are diffrent..i am pretty sure engineers are smarter than most lawyers..and i bet you are too. (secretly thats why i argue so hard hehe..i felt condesended by what you said in your OP)..just like economic is often said to be the refuge of failed engineers..law is the refuge of failed..well...everybody
6.8.2007 6:03am
NaG (mail):
The law turns out bad results from time to time (Paris, OJ, etc.). Some non-law types then argue that this is a good reason for why the law could use an infusion of scientific reasoning. However, law is ill-suited for a lot of that kind of thing, precisely because of what a commenter stated earlier: law is created by wholly man-made principles and laws, while science involves physical matter and energy that acts according to laws that are not man-made.

In other words, "a person shall be guilty of first degree murder if they kill another human being with malice aforethought" simply isn't a law that can be tested or evaluated in the same way that, say, the law of gravity can. There aren't experiments to conduct where you can conclusively determine that, in Case X, you have first degree murder while in Case Y, there is not.

At best I suppose what you could do is put a large number of people from a given jurisdiction through a jury-like process where they are exposed to a set of test cases and then asked to determine in which ones a given law was violated or not. That could give local lawyers an idea for what juries constituted from that jurisdiction might tend toward during a real trial. But the problem is, test cases would never be the same as real cases. There will always be differences that could affect the outcome. At best you could argue, "well, our case is like Case X, and therefore the jury should find guilt," and that's what lawyers already do. It's all they can do. But no judge would consider such a test study to be authoritative compared to actual cases already decided.

Science and economics are tremendously useful for informing public policy considerations to law. But the real problem is that while a scientific law is falsifiable, legal principles are not. That's just how it is.
6.8.2007 8:53am
vepxistqaosani (mail) (www):
On engineering and law.

Unless you're a doctrinaire post-modernist, you will be certain whether a particular act of engineering worked or not: The bridge fell down or stayed up; the software ran or gave a blue screen of death; the car works for years or was a Ford; etc.

The problem with law is that it is very hard to be certain what the result should be in every case.

Engineers begin their work with a very clear idea of the results they want; it is not at all obvious that legislators make law with the same clarity of purpose. Before we begin remaking the justice system on an engineering model, we have to have a clear and complete specification of the outcomes we want.

From my layman's perspective, the most troubling bits of the law are the rules of evidence, esp. exclusionary rules. I like to think that there is objective truth and that the job of a trial is to determine it. I am also skeptical of the contention which undergirds the rules of evidence; viz., that juries are stupid and easily led and therefore incapable of distinguishing irrelevant and prejudicial rhetoric from valid evidence.

Perhaps only engineers should be allowed on juries?

Or, more reasonably, we should move away from the adversarial and toward the (unfairly and prejudicially named) inquisitorial system, in which members of the jury are allowed to ask questions.
6.8.2007 9:42am
George Weiss (mail):
clarification:

by admitting i think engineers are smarter on average than lawyers i dont mean to suggest that law is thus inferior as a product than engineering....

just fyo
6.8.2007 10:20am
John Neff (mail):
For minor offenses the CJ System is very similar to a restaurant where the customer moves from counter to counter to be served or to select items to put on their tray and they pay as they leave. It is possible to make this process more efficient and in some counties they have but some lawyers scoff at this and call it assembly line justice. I guess it is but what is so bad about assembly line justice for minor offenses?

For more serious offenses the error rate by judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys appears to be too high. How are judges trained, or are they trained at all? It appears that the judge has to bite their tongue while they watch the prosecutor or defense attorney screw up. Why is that? it seems to me if the judge put a stop to that they could reduce the number of appeals.

One of the things that engineers do that should be part of the CJS is failure analysis. In other words what will be the consequences if this fails and how can we minimize the damage if it does fail? The CJS processes many millions of cases per year and a lot of them are appeals because someone screwed up.
A 1% reduction in the failure rate would save a lot of time and money.
6.8.2007 11:10am
LongSufferingRaidersFan (mail):
TyWebb:

Thanks for the clarification--I somehow missed the part about how a Paris Hilton thread tied into presidential pardons. My bad.
6.8.2007 11:24am
James968 (mail):
I have to ask are they going to give her a drug screen at some point and verify that she hasn't gotten drunk or high in the 16 hours she's been free?
6.8.2007 11:26am
simpsons reference:
Actually, a lot of cases are appealed b/c someone wants to spend money for a second chance, not b/c of an error. Appeals are upheld at exremely high rates. Based on my non-comprehensive quick glance study of Minnesota state cases, 90% of appeals simply uphold what the trial court did.

The way to lower appeals would be to prohibit more people from appealing. But this runs counter to our country's notion that a person should have all opportunities to prove their case.

Maybe we should just have a tighter system of appeals, where panels of appellate judges review the trial court's written decisions, and if they unanimously do not want to review a decision, they just affirm the trial court and do nothing more.
6.8.2007 11:28am
Peter Young:
Friday's Los Angeles Times story had this to say about Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca's decision:

Baca defended Hilton's release, saying, "The minute I was informed by the doctors about her medical condition, I realized the system was not able to respond effectively to these problems."

He said that three days behind bars was more than most defendants charged with a similar crime — violating probation by driving with a suspended license — would receive.

Baca, whose jails treat tens of thousands of sick and mentally ill inmates each year, said no favoritism was involved.

"We did what is best and what is justice," Baca said. "Some people have an attitude that she was not punished enough."
6.8.2007 11:44am
NaG (mail):
And now Paris is going back to jail.

Justice prevails.
6.8.2007 4:39pm
Wolfshead (mail):
For those who think that driving with a suspended license is a mere nothig or a victimless crime, it isn't. There is usually a reason for suspension of a licnese.

Years ago a friend of mine was killed, his wife seriously injured and two of his 3 children spent a couple of weeks in the hospital. Why? Because a young man thought that his license suspension meant nothing either so he took his parent's car and decided to take a ride. Because the guy in front of him wasn't going fast enough he decided to pass him on the other side of the double yellow. He wound up going head on into my friend's car. The reason his license was suspended? Reckless driving.

While Ms Hilton might not have hurt anyone this time there was an underlying cause to her suspended license also, drunk driving. Ms. Hilton lives a lifestyle and consorts with people with which booze and drugs play a prominent part of said lifestyle. Do we need to wait until she does injure someone and then we throw the book at her? Maybe now she gets the message before someone gets hurt.
6.8.2007 5:54pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Reckless driving while intoxicated is very serious and should be dealt with in a way calculated to prevent it from recurring. What that means, however, is often far from clear and no doubt varies from person to person. In some cases, nothing short of keeping them in jail will keep them off the road. In other cases, revocation of their license and police with an eye out for them will suffice. For some a fine or a wee bit of jail time will be enough. For some young people, the best techniques may not involve the judicial system. Some would say that in a case like this the best approach would be a tour of the morgue, others that her father should take his belt to her. I don't know enough about her to have any clear idea which if any of these would be best, but I would distinguish the question of whether her behaviour is serious and needs changing from that of whether jail time is the best way of dealing with it.
6.8.2007 6:48pm
John Neff (mail):
If I understand her record she was arrested and charged with reckless driving but her BAC was high enough so she could have been charged with DUI. That suggests the arresting officer or city/county attorney reduced the charge.

There were either two or thee stops for DWB and at least one resulted in an arrest and there apparently was no plea bargaining or she turned down the offer by the prosecutor. She had to appear in court on one of the DWB charges and probation violation (because of the new charge and failure to appear for the substance abuse treatment class).

If Jane Doe did that in our county she would most likely be sentenced to jail for 30 days with a 20% good time reduction. If she asked for home detention the judge might agree subject to the approval of the sheriff. If the sheriff said no she could appeal and the judge might overrule the sheriff.

Paris Hilton asked for home detention and the judge said no. After holding her in jail for three days the sheriff essentially overruled the judge and used home detention instead of jail. I can understand why this has resulted in a shit storm because it is not a good idea for a sheriff to have so much power they can push a judge around.

It is very common for someone to spend a night in jail for being a pain in the ass in a public place and I think if she had been jailed for DUI at the time of the original offense that would have been sufficient to correct the problem. In other words I think they cut her too much slack because she was a celebrity.
6.8.2007 7:42pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
John A. Fleming wrote:
So, lets tally it up.
Clinton lies, nothing much happens to him.
Sandy Burglar lies and steals, nothing much happens to him.
Scooter lies, 30 months and big fine.
Paris cries and refuses to eat prison food, they let her go.
{from another post here)some lady deals crystal meth, gets 292 months.
A few points in response:

1. Clinton was impeached, though not convicted. He was also disbarred. I wouldn't call this "nothing much". Keep in mind that his lies were not material to the investigation in which they were made and thus would not amount to perjury, even though most laypeople take it as a given that they would.

2. Sandy Berger accepted a plea bargain. Those who take such deals generally get lighter sentences. He received two years probation and a $50,000 fine, and lost his security clearance. He was also disbarred. It's not a very harsh sentence but, once again, it can't fairly be described as "nothing much". Keep in mind that he only removed copies of classified documents; the originals were still where they belonged so the government was not deprived of their use. Taking the copies was bad, but taking the originals too would have been much worse.

3. Paris Hilton committed a minor crime and received the same punishment that particular judge routinely metes out for similar conduct. Whether the sheriff should have reassigned her to house arrest after a few days is an important question but does not reflect on the judicial system. The judge has made it very clear that he does not approve of what happened. If you're going to complain about judges do you should focus on their decisions, not decisions over which they have no control.

4. Libby was convicted of trying to thwart an official investigation into a breach of national security. That's a much more serious offense than what Clinton and Berger (and Parish Hilton) did, and it warrants a more serious punishment. Further, Libby went to trial and was thus not entitled to expect the kind of leniency a plea bargain might have secured for him.

I should add that Libby's punishment was imposed by one of the tough-on-crime judges President Bush so proudly appointed, and that it was well within the range prescribed by the official U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

I happen to think most of the guidelines are too harsh (the 292-month sentence you mention is a very good example of why), but the reason we have them is to accomplish your stated goal of minimizing the arbitrary differences in sentencing that resulted when judges had more discretion. The system you want is in place and it worked as it was supposed to in Libby's case. If you think he should have received a much lighter sentence then you are really saying either that you agree with me about guideline sentences being too harsh or that the judge should have gone easy on Libby by exercising precisely the type of arbitrariness you claim to be against.
6.8.2007 9:31pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Orin Kerr,

Our aircraft design system is a lot like the people who run it: it works sometimes, but it is and always will be flawed. Have a good flight!
6.8.2007 11:04pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
OT, but . . .

I hadn't paid a great deal of attention to Berger, but he stole COPIES? And he was in charge of national security?

After 40 years in the newspaper business, I have pretty low expectations of officialdom, but not that low.

Wow.

Paris Hilton for national security adviser. Couldn't be dumber.
6.8.2007 11:28pm
MJSgl (mail):
Edward A. Hoffman wrote:
2. ...Keep in mind that he only removed copies of classified documents; the originals were still where they belonged so the government was not deprived of their use. Taking the copies was bad, but taking the originals too would have been much worse.
Mr. Hoffman,

A point in response. The following should be fairly obvious and common sense, but since you would apparently prefer to remain incurious and take at face value every news item you read (e.g., that short article you linked to from the Washington Post on the Sandy Berger affair), and then base subsequent superficial analysis on said item, I'll point something out to you: Most likely, there were notes on those "copies," notes original and notes now lost.

Ronald Cass articulates such a likelihood more convincingly than I ever could:
We don't know with any certainty what is missing, which papers exactly are gone, or what notes - and whose notes - may have been on them. Berger's lawyer asserted that the 9/11 Commission had copies of all the material Berger stole and destroyed. But if that is so, why would Berger risk so much to destroy it and be so keen today on avoiding any real inquiry into what he did?

Berger had access to Archives documents that could be critical to understanding what information the Clinton Administration had, what options it considered, and what decisions it took on these sensitive subjects. In addition to primary documents, Berger had access to copies, and the only plausible reason for taking five copies of a single memo is that some had original notes on them from key officials, maybe from Berger or President Clinton.
Seriously, does your partisanship run so deep that you really didn't even consider the motives behind Mr. Berger's crime, or is the mindless drivel you spewed in his defense simply your attempt at obfuscation?
6.9.2007 5:42am
Laura S.:
I'm shocked that a judge could overrule the Sheriff's office in this way. Shouldn't it be the case that the continued confinement of an individual requires the concurrence of the court and a suitable executive officer?

I hope this gets slapped down on appeal, albeit with a heavy dose of dicta criticizing the sheriff's office.
6.9.2007 2:22pm
K:
MJSgl gives a good response about the Berger 'copies' incident.

Taking copies has nothing to do with the case. First, as noted, there may have been handwritten comments or routing stamps on a copy that are not on the original. That may have been what Berger wanted to destroy.

Berger may not have known where the original was or even if it still existed. An original buried in archives somewhere may never be noticed. By taking the archive copy he might have suppressed information for decades or forever.

And why should we accept a statement from Berger's lawyer that copies of all documents are at the 9/11 Commission? God in Heaven! This man is Berger's lawyer. What do you expect? He relys upon what Berger tells him.

Finally, we have absolutely no reason to believe Berger might not have taken related documents from other files. He was hardly w/o access to top level information.

Some of that is merely suspicion. But not at odds with what we know about this sorry episode. Berger got the plea bargain of the century. But the century is still young.
6.9.2007 4:06pm
Elliot123 (mail):
What's the big deal? Go to libraries and archives all over the country and you will see people at the copy machine furiously making copies and stuffing them down their pants and into their socks. It adds a whole new dimension to the question, "Boxers or briefs?"
6.9.2007 4:36pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
I'll overlook MJSgl's ad hominem attacks on me and focus on the merits -- such as they are -- of her argument.

MJSgl has no evidence that the stolen copies included anything that wasn't on the originals and/or other copies. Her argument is based upon speculation. The speculation happens to be reasonable, but it is speculation nonetheless. There are plenty of equally reasonable explanations that are far less sinister.

MSJgl and the article she cites presume that the reason Berger took the documents was to prevent others from seeing their contents. That's quite possible but it's far from certain. He could very well have taken them to secure for himself an unfair advantage in his consulting business. Such an advantage would likely have resulted in much higher earnings. Thefts stem far more often from financial incentives like this than from a desire to protect reputations. Why would Berger risk prison to protect Clinton's reputation anyway? (Bear in mind that Berger did not face such a risk before the thefts. The documents' contents could not have landed him in prison because his official acts are immune from prosecution.)

The prosecutors who decided what kind of deal to strike with Berger had better information than Cass, MJSgl or I do, and they decided a light punishment was appropriate. If they agreed with MJSgl's theory I doubt they would have made such a deal.

Theoretically, federal prosecutors are insulated from political pressure. That theory was never completely accurate and the current administration may very well have changed this basic tenet of our justice system, but either way the Bush justice department surely had no incentive to go easy on a member of the Clinton cabinet if it believed he had committed a serious crime.
6.9.2007 6:19pm
K:
Hoffman: Your last is reasoned. But I have questions.

Why might he take documents to gain advantage in consulting? The advantage would lie in knowing what they contained, not in physically possessing them. (It can be argued the advantage would be to deny them to others; that seems weak.)

If they were for consulting why not say so? And why handle them as he did outside the archives?

Why accept that the prosecutors had better information than we do? And therefore their decision was appropriate? That is a classic appeal meaning nothing.

The Bush administration had no incentive to go easy? Why not? Any prosecution of a Democrat means a fierce battle. It is easier to take on a Republican. Maybe this is just a fight they avoided regardless of what they believed.
6.9.2007 6:57pm
NaG (mail):
Hoffman: Keep in mind that his lies were not material to the investigation in which they were made and thus would not amount to perjury, even though most laypeople take it as a given that they would.

Completely false. The lies concerning his relationship with Lewinsky were directly material to the claims made by Paula Jones. There is no doubt that testimony concerning the Lewinsky-Clinton relationship would have been admissible at the civil trial. That is because legislation regarding workplace sexual harassment specifically made such information material, and you can thank the Democrats (and, to some extent, Clinton himself) for that.

As for Berger, the problem is that we don't really know all of what happened. He acted pretty suspiciously with the printed out, non-notated copies (leaving them in a construction zone nearby -- who does that? -- before taking them to his office), and his explanation did not synch up with his actions (if for his consulting business, why take multiple copies? why destroy any copies?). But even if the ultimate truth is worse for Berger, it's not likely to be hugely worse.
6.10.2007 10:07am
jcly (mail) (www):
I just scored 344 with Free Paris game at freeparisgame.com. It is noce to just lighten up and have some fun.
6.15.2007 11:41am