Hilton will do more time than most, analysis finds

Times Staff Writers

Paris Hilton will end up serving more time behind bars than the vast majority of inmates sent to L.A. County Jail for similar offenses, according to a Times analysis of jail records.

Whether Hilton received special treatment from the Sheriff’s Department has become the subject of much debate since Sheriff Lee Baca last week allowed the hotel heiress to go home after less than four full days in jail, despite a promise that she would serve 23 days of a 45-day sentence.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. June 23, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 23, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Paris Hilton: The chart accompanying a June 14 article in Section A comparing Paris Hilton’s jail term to those of others who faced similar charges said she violated her probation for DUI. Hilton was placed on probation after pleading no contest to a reduced charge of alcohol-related reckless driving.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 71 words Type of Material: Correction
Paris Hilton: Articles in The Times about Paris Hilton’s jail sentence have given differing accounts of how long the hotel heiress spent behind bars the first time before Sheriff Lee Baca released her. Hilton entered custody at 11:15 p.m. on June 3 and was released early in the morning of June 7. The Sheriff’s Department credited her with five days in jail, but she actually served less than four full days.

The Times analyzed 2 million jail releases and found 1,500 cases since July 2002 that -- like Hilton’s -- involved defendants who had been arrested for drunk driving and later sentenced to jail after a probation violation or driving without a license.

Had Hilton left jail for good after four days, her stint behind bars would have been similar to those served by 60% of those inmates.

But after a judge sent her back to jail Friday, Hilton’s attorney announced that she would serve the full 23 days. That means that Hilton will end up serving more time than 80% of other people in similar situations.


The findings came as some critics accused Baca of showing favoritism to Hilton and as the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors launched an investigation into whether the multimillionaire received special treatment because of her wealth and fame.

The data also underscore the profound effect of the Sheriff’s Department’s early-release program, which sets inmates free before their sentences are up to ease overcrowding.

Before the early-release program began in 2002, inmates with cases similar to Hilton’s were sentenced to terms that amounted to an average of 23 days, the same as Hilton is expected to serve. They actually served 20 days. After the program began, the average term was 14 days, with inmates actually serving an average of four days.

Because of the high media interest, Hilton was one of only a few inmates whose premature release received publicity -- and the judge who originally sentenced her noticed. She is believed to be the first inmate in years who actually was sent back to jail to serve more of her term.

“Twenty-three days would be considerably more than the average person given her sentence would actually serve,” said Stan Goldman, professor of criminal law and procedure at Loyola Law School. “The jails are so overcrowded that even though overcrowding is not the reason for her release, it colors every release decision from the jails system.”

Baca’s release of Hilton because of undisclosed medical problems touched off a storm of protest. Last year, the department released only three inmates on medical grounds, a spokesman said.

One of the most vocal critics, civil rights activist Najee Ali, said Wednesday that Hilton ought to be released if inmates sentenced for similar crimes were serving less time. He continued to criticize Baca’s decision to cite medical problems for the release, but added that only dangerous offenders should serve their full sentences given the jail’s need to limit overcrowding.

“Clearly, her violation is not as serious, so she should be released,” said Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope. “The rules of fairness should be applied equally.”

Hilton was sentenced to 45 days for violating probation on alcohol-related, reckless-driving charges from an incident in September. Police stopped her while she was driving during the period that her license was suspended.

If Hilton does serve the 23 days, she will have done about the same amount of time as 4,000 inmates who since 2002 had been charged with assaults, as well as more than 1,800 charged with burglary, more than 2,600 charged with domestic violence and nearly 11,000 charged with drug violations.

Over the last five years, more than 200,000 inmates have been released early. Baca started the releases during a budget crunch that he said left him no choice but to shut large portions of the nation’s largest county correctional system. Though economic times have since improved, a federal court has ordered his department to reduce chronic overcrowding in the jails, hampering efforts to keep inmates longer.

The Times’ analysis of jail releases found that more than 60% of those with cases similar to Hilton’s walked free after serving less than half their time. Under the department’s current guidelines, Hilton probably would have served even less time. Most nonviolent female offenders sentenced to less than 90 days are released immediately.

“The only special treatment she got -- she got more time in jail,” Baca said in an interview earlier this week.

(The analysis studied only jail release data and did not take into account other factors that influence individual cases, such as the judge’s sentencing record and courtroom behavior of the defendant).

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer made it clear when he sentenced Hilton that she was not to be released early. His comments were included in commitment papers the court sent to the jail.

On previous occasions, jail officials have ignored orders from judges to keep particular inmates in jail for their full sentences, saying that they first must comply with a federal court’s restrictions on overcrowding. But sheriff’s officials pledged before Hilton’s arrival that she would serve 23 days, after calculating discounts for good behavior.

When Baca released Hilton, officials said she would be confined to her house -- and be monitored electronically by the county Probation Department -- to serve out the rest of her term. (It was unclear from data how many of the other inmates examined by The Times’ analysis were released with similar conditions).

A day later, Sauer ordered her back into custody. Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said Baca would not challenge Sauer’s order.

“He doesn’t want to make anyone a judicial football,” Whitmore said.

Critics of early release have highlighted egregious cases in their calls to end the practice. A Times investigation last year found that some inmates committed murders and other violent crimes when they otherwise would have been behind bars.

Hilton, some critics said, might not be the most likely poster child for the dangers of early release, but they welcomed the publicity that surrounded her case for spotlighting a vital public safety issue.

“In a way the people of this community owe a vote of thanks to Ms. Hilton because she’s highlighted an issue that a bunch of dead bodies didn’t,” said Tom Higgins, who runs the Los Angeles County district attorney’s criminal filings division in downtown Los Angeles. He said he was not speaking on behalf of the office.

“She is receiving what she should have got and what every other prisoner [like her] should have got.... The fact that hundreds of people in similar situations serve less time does not mean that she’s been harshly treated.”


Times staff writers Tami Abdollah, Andrew Blankstein and Stuart Pfeifer and data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.


Begin text of infobox

Did Hilton get special treatment?

Paris Hilton was sentenced to 45 days in jail when she violated her probation for DUI by driving with a suspended license. She is expected to actually serve 23 days.

How much time is served

In mid-2002, Sheriff Lee Baca began releasing inmates early from the county’s overcrowded jail system. Median number of days served by inmates in cases similar to Hilton’s:

Before July 1, 2002

Days expected to serve - 23

Days actually served - 20

After July 1, 2002

Days expected to serve - 14

Days actually served - 4


The breakdown

Of those sentenced to jail for driving with a suspended license in violation of DUI probation, the following percent actually served the number of days indicated:

Before July 1, 2002

*--* Days served Percent of those sentenced 1-5 22% 6-10 13 11-20 16 21-30 11 31+ 28


After July 1, 2002

*--* Days served Percent of those sentenced 1-5 59% 6-10 13 11-20 9 21-30 4 31+ 14



Other crimes

Number of inmates serving 20-25 days in jail, by most serious charged crime:*

*--* Drugs 10,720 Theft/property crimes 3,012 Assault 2,726 Domestic violence 2,655 Burglary 1,832 DUI 1,513 Auto theft 1,408 Assault with a deadly weapon 1,305



Methodology: For this article, The Times electronically searched seven years of L.A. County Jail booking and release records to identify cases similar to Paris Hilton’s. Those selected were initially jailed on misdemeanor charges of driving under the influence and subsequently sentenced to jail following charges of probation violation or driving on a suspended license. All cases that included more serious charges were excluded. Because of limitations in the data, cases having more serious prior convictions or convictions in other counties could not always be excluded. Nor was it possible to determine the charges on which the defendants were actually convicted. The data spanned 1999 through 2005.

* Since July 1, 2002. Selected categories of crime.

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% because of rounding.


Source: L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Data analysis by Doug Smith and Sandra Poindexter