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A Crime’s a Crime

Actor Robert Downey Jr. was rightly sentenced Monday to serve time in the Los Angeles County jail for again violating the terms of his probation on a 1996 drug conviction. Jail time was the option that should have been taken months ago, as it surely would have been for any ordinary citizen.

Malibu Municipal Court Judge Lawrence Mira talked tough when he said it was his intent “to let [Downey] know that when you make the choice for drugs, you’re going to jail.” But Mira’s previous leniency with the actor has been part of the problem. What kind of message is sent when youths who idolize stars see that drug arrests do not even interfere with movie careers?

Downey’s first arrest came in June 1996, for speeding on Pacific Coast Highway. He pleaded no contest to felony drug and weapons counts. He was arrested again when he was found unconscious in a neighbor’s house and was charged with trespassing and suspicion of drug possession. A third arrest came in July 1996 after Downey skipped out on a required treatment program.

Judge Mira’s toughest ruling in those cases was mandatory drug treatment at a locked facility. Even that became a joke when Mira allowed Downey out to host the “Saturday Night Live” TV show, which included a skit in which Downey played a detective who found a stash of heroin. “In my book, if you do drugs, you go to jail and you stay there,” Downey’s character declared. “You don’t go to some cushy rehab center and take a week off to host some comedy show.”

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The public properly slams the National Football League for allowing players three drug violations before suspending them for a year. Downey kept making movies throughout his legal troubles, hired once by a director who said that Downey “had been crucified enough.” How? A few soft interviews and jokes by talk show hosts? One movie production company took out an “incarceration coverage” policy on Downey in case he was arrested during filming. That’s some hard line.

Downey has been given many chances to straighten out, certainly more than most addicts receive. His six-month jail sentence was an unavoidable end to what had become a near-mockery of the justice system.


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