Brief jail sentences this week for Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie have brought back the question of whether fame provides a soft landing for fallen stars.
On Thursday, Lohan got a one-day sentence for drunken driving and being under the influence of cocaine, and Richie served the better part of a four-day jail sentence for driving under the influence of drugs in 82 minutes. She never saw the inside of a jail cell.
Were those slim punishments the benefit of fame? The answer is yes and no. Their sentences were consistent with others that occur outside the spotlight, according to legal experts. But high-priced lawyers helped them evade stronger punishment.
On the flip side, the cost was high in negative headlines, legal bills and career consequences. An actress like Lohan, who had a thriving screen career before she was arrested, may have trouble being insured for future projects. She is also spending time in yet another rehab facility and has admitted she has an addiction problem.
But the impact on others is what worries those involved in the legal system and the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse.
"For the young kids, it sets a bad example," said Beverly Hills addiction specialist Marty Brenner. "It says if I have enough money and a great lawyer I can get away with anything." He suggested that all such offenders be sentenced to a 90-day rehabilitation program because anything shorter does not work.
Those within the legal system say Lohan and Richie were treated no differently from other drug and alcohol cases that make their way through the courts. In Los Angeles County, jail overcrowding requires that Sheriff Lee Baca use the facilities he has for more serious offenders.
Loyola University Law School professor Laurie Levenson noted that Lohan could have been charged with a felony, but her plea bargain involved only lesser misdemeanors. Richie was a second offender charged with driving under the influence of drugs after motorists reported her driving the wrong way on a freeway. She was arrested after being found stopped in a car pool lane, her vehicle facing the right way.
Both Lohan and Richie fared far better than Paris Hilton, who served some three weeks in jail for a probation violation after pleading no contest to alcohol-related reckless driving.
Meanwhile, deputies searching the home of rapper DMX during an investigation into claims of animal cruelty found about 0.23kg of suspected illegal narcotics, the Maricopa County sheriff said Saturday.
No charges have been filed or arrests made. Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the investigation into alleged animal cruelty was ongoing, and the suspected drugs were being tested to confirm their content.
Friday's search was prompted by reports that pit bulls kept by the rapper at the home in rural north Phoenix were not being given enough food or water. A dozen pit bulls were seized, the bodies of three dogs were dug up in the yard and a variety of assault-style weapons were taken from the home, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.
DMX, whose real name is Earl Simmons, was not at home and his lawyer said he hasn't been there for two months.
Arpaio said there was no indication the dogs were used in fights.
Attorney Murray Richman said he had no knowledge of any narcotics. The dogs were looked after by a caretaker and "all sorts of people" had been staying at the home, Richman said.