Lindsay Lohan and Vincent James - A tale of two sentences
It would appear that Lindsay Lohan is celebrity gossipgold. But her brushes with the lawsay as much about our society and our expectations for the criminal justicesystem as it does about Lohan, making aspects of her story one worthy ofexploration by even mainstream journalists.
An arrest warrant was issued in Los Angeles last week forthe 'Mean Girls' actress after a judge ruled she violated probation for thesecond time in two weeks. Lohan avoided jail by posting $200,000 bail.
An arrest warrant was issued in Oakland for Vincent James*after he was late reporting to a community service litter cleanup program, partof his sentence for a 2005 DUI conviction. He spent 6 days in jail before documentsexcusing his tardiness were processed by the court.
The media has covered the Lohan story extensively, despitethe fact that there a lot more people like James processed every day by thejustice system. Could it be that the news gatekeepers identify more closelywith the upper class Lohan than the middle class James?
Lohan was arrested for DUI in July 2007. After missing aprobation hearing before Superior Court Judge Marsha Revel May 20, she wasordered to refrain from drinking, submit to random drug tests and to wear anankle bracelet that monitors alcohol use. Revel issued the warrant when thebracelet registered the presence of alcohol while the star attended a partyafter the MTV Music Awards on June 6th. Lohan was also charged with DUI for a MemorialDay 2007 hit and run crash.
The crimes committed by Lohan, who is White and upper-class,and James, who is Black and middle class, are similar but the punishment isvery different. No surprise according to Olis Simmons, executive director ofYouthUprising, a youth center offering comprehensive services in East Oakland.
'If a young person is stopped for DUI, the ankle bracelethappens initially, even before you go to court. That is a given for youngpeople of color. And you are remanded into custody if you miss a court date.'
James was 22 when he crashed his car after a day ofdrinking. It was his first offense. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail, fined$3,500, lost his license for two years and had to pay $80 a month for abreathalyzer in his car when he was able to drive again. He paid another $1,500to attend a DUI program for 18 months.
James served the 10-day sentence in the sheriff's workprogram, picking up litter along freeways. Because he was not allowed to drivehe had a hard time reaching the meeting place.
'We had to be there at 6 o'clock and one day I missed myride,' he said. 'I got there a few minutes late and the van had already left sothey issued a warrant. The sheriff's department filed paperwork to cancel thewarrant, but it was still in the system when I was stopped the next day so Iwas arrested and spent 6 days in jail.'
Despite his troubles, James considers himself lucky.
'My mom helped me hire a lawyer for $4,000. The court wantedto give me 30 days (in jail) but she (the lawyer) got it down to 10 days,' saidJames. 'Most of the guys who I met in the program were Black and Hispanic andthey all did 30 days.'
Most young people of color who get in trouble with the law -even if they are middle class -- don't have the resources to hire an attorneyor plunk down $20,000, 10% of the $200,000 bail. They must rely on publicdefenders. Simmons believes the disparity in sentencing and who goes to jailhas a lot to do with who you are and your place in society.
'Lohan's story is what happens if you are white and haveprivilege. The assumption is her time is more valuable. You never hear aboutpeople like James.'
Lohan remains free, thanks to the $200,000 bail, and is dueback in court July 6th. She is still on probation, has to wear the anklebracelet and is subject to random drug tests. Revel could send her to jail forviolating her probation.
James is off probation and has a job but he's still payingback the money he borrowed from his mother for the attorney that kept him outof jail.
*Vincent James is a pseudonym. He would not give his realname for fear it may impact his current job.
Olis Simmons, 510-777-9909; firstname.lastname@example.org
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