The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No mercy for celebrities

Los Angeles, Sept. 2 (Reuters): Do celebrities get more favourable treatment than ordinary people when they have a brush with the law, or are they handled more harshly by prosecutors looking to set an example.

The case of actress Winona Ryder, charged with stealing about $4,800 worth of clothes and accessories during a Beverly Hills shopping spree, suggests the latter, according to a new TV show about celebrities and the courts.

Among defendants in 16 other Beverly Hills shoplifting cases last year involving merchandise valued at $1,000 or more, none were hit with as many charges as Ryder, the syndicated programme, Celebrity Justice, reported in its debut episode.

Ryder was charged with grand theft, second-degree burglary and vandalism for allegedly cutting security tags off merchandise in a Saks Fifth Avenue store on December 12 last year and walking out the door without paying for them.

Of the accused shoplifters in 16 other cases examined by Celebrity Justice stemming from incidents in high-end Beverly Hills stores, none had a grand theft charge paired with both burglary and vandalism charges as Ryder did. The same was true of about two dozen other Beverly Hills shoplifting cases that involved merchandise worth between $1,000 and $400, the minimal amount for felony grand theft.

“None of them had the book thrown at them like Winona,” said Ross McLaughlin, the reporter who conducted the Celebrity Justice probe. “I honestly thought I wouldn’t find anything like this, and I was surprised by it.”

The Girl, Interrupted star was also charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance in connection with a prescription narcotic she was found to be carrying.

If convicted of all four charges, she could be sentenced to three years and eight months in prison. The actress, who is free on $20,000 bail, has pleaded innocent to all the charges and her lawyer, Mark Geragos, has said she was the victim of a misunderstanding and her own celebrity.


The high-profile case has raised renewed questions about the extent to which celebrities receive special treatment before the law. Geragos has said Saks' security officers targeted the actress as a celebrity and that the charges against her amounted to“a prosecutorial feeding frenzy.”

But Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office is quoted by“Celebrity Justice” as saying,“This case is being handled just like any other case of its type.”

Former Los Angeles District Attorney Ira Reiner said that far from being treated with kid gloves, celebrity defendants typically can count on facing the full extent of the law.

”If the case is notorious, if it involves a celebrity and everybody is watching, then every charge that can properly and appropriately be filed will, you can bet, be filed,” he told the program.

”Celebrity Justice,” produced by Time Telepictures Television, the AOL Time Warner unit behind the syndicated TV show“Extra,” will air as a half-hour edition five days a week, with a one-hour broadcast on weekends.

In addition to spot news on criminal cases and lawsuits involving entertainers, the program will feature real-estate reports on the rich and famous, interactive mock trials of celebrity lawsuits in which viewers act as the jurors, and a segment called“Court Appearance” on stars' courtroom fashion habits.

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