Hilton launches appeal, turns to gov. for pardon

Times Staff Writers

Don’t get that jail cell ready for Paris Hilton just yet.

Hilton’s defense team has launched a last-ditch effort to keep her out of jail after a Los Angeles traffic court judge made international headlines by sentencing the socialite to 45 days in county jail for repeatedly driving while her license was suspended.

Her attorneys have filed a notice of appeal at the courthouse. Though the document does not lay out the grounds for the appeal, her attorney, Howard L. Weitzman, has said the sentence was far too harsh given Hilton’s misdeeds.

Her camp is also turning to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, circulating a petition seeking a pardon for Hilton, who must report to the Century Women’s Correctional Facility in Lynwood by June 5th.


But legal experts said both efforts face an uphill battle.

“I don’t think the Founding Fathers had Paris Hilton’s driving conviction in mind when they enacted the cruel and unusual punishment provision of the Constitution,” said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson.

She said Hilton had nothing to lose by seeking the appeal and the pardon request, which were probably designed more to garner public sympathy than achieve a legal victory.

“But they took the wrong approach from the beginning, which was to contest the violation rather than throw themselves on the mercy of the court and show some real contrition,” Levenson said. “You don’t want to be the celebrity after O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson are acquitted and suggest that you are asking for special treatment.”

A Los Angeles attorney who has represented celebrities said she was dubious that an appeal would work because the sentence appears in line with what other defendants would receive for a similar probation violation.

The attorney, who spoke on the condition that she not be named, said Hilton’s best legal challenge would be to appeal the judge’s ruling that she serve her time in a county jail -- rather than in one of the city jails around Southern California, where people can pay extra for better accommodations.

Hilton pleaded no contest to driving under the influence after she was pulled over in Hollywood on Sept. 7 by Los Angeles Police Department officers for speeding and making an illegal left turn. After she failed a field sobriety test, her blood alcohol level was measured at 0.08%, just over the legal limit. Hilton had her license suspended but continued to drive, violating the terms of her probation. She was pulled over three times during the period of her suspension.


“The judge, based on the range of sentences, gave her a perfectly fair and appropriate sentence,” said Robert Pugsley, a professor of law at Southwestern Law School. “These grandiose measures won’t be successful. It seems to be more an effort to continue to keep her name in the news.”

Hilton backers are circulating a petition on the Internet urging Schwarzenegger to pardon her. The petition notes that other celebrities have had much worse driving mishaps and avoided jail time.

“Paris Hilton did not hurt, injure or kill anyone or anything, and yet she must do jail time,” the petition reads.

The petition also praises the governor: “Let me first begin by saying that I grew up as a child enjoying all of your wonderful films. You really are the truly great action hero for our time. You are doing a great job in the great state of California.”

The governor’s office said it would consider the request but suggested that Hilton should not count on a last-minute reprieve.

“Typically, he only acts in very extraordinary circumstances,” spokesman Aaron McLear said, adding that pardons are usually considered only when a defendant has exhausted all other legal remedies. “Should we receive such a request, we will treat it no differently than any other of this nature.”