Cameron Douglas Gets Celebrity Justice – the Extra Tough Kind

Posted May 30, 2012 in Criminal Law by

Dan Abrams,

Dan Abrams

By  Dan Abrams, attorney, legal analyst and longtime television news anchor. Currently Dan is the Legal Analyst for ABC News and the founder of the Abrams Media Network of web sites.

Actor Michael Douglas’ 33 year-old son, Cameron, has long struggled with drug addiction and is now paying the price. Serving a five-year sentence for drug distribution and heroin possession, he was recently sentenced to another four and a half years for possession of heroin and suboxone (a prescription medication to treat addiction) while in prison. That is well over double what prosecutors had recommended for this additional crime.

As an addict, he’s certainly not alone. Many are serving disproportionately high sentences for what is increasingly being seen by prosecutors and even the public as overkill. Even in many conservative states, officials are taking the unprecedented  measure of releasing those sentenced to stiff sentences for non-violent drug crimes. However, his case is also a little different in that Douglas risked everything to testify against his supplier and has cooperated with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in their investigations of other cases.

A group of around two-dozen addiction doctors and organizations has now filed a brief in support of Douglas, arguing that sentencing addicts like him to more time is counterproductive. They say he’s suffering from untreated dependence, and additional prison time isn’t the answer.

Maybe so, but that is not at the heart of the immediate issue. When a judge sentences someone like Douglas to more than double what prosecutors recommended, there is often something more at play.

Judge Richard M. Berman, pronounced Douglas the most “destructive and manipulative” defendant he had ever seen, “continually reckless, disruptive and non-compliant.” It is clear he violated the court order and deserved to get extra time for violating prison rules and the law. Period. Maybe even the 18 to 24 months prosecutors sought. But four and a half more years? He is more “destructive” than, let’s say, the many repeat violent offenders who have almost certainly passed through Judge Berman’s chambers? This judge is either getting a light caseload or engaging in serious hyperbole.

This smells to me of a particular brand of justice at odds with the public’s impression of how celebrities are treated by the judicial system. The rich and famous sometimes get tougher sentences because judges know the world is watching and they fear being seen as soft on the privileged. As hard as it may be for some to believe, celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan received sentences or punishments stiffer than a non-celebrity might have in similar circumstances. 

So what about OJ, Michael Jackson in his molestation trial, Casey Anthony or R. Kelly, all acquitted, leading many to feel the justice system is stacked in their favor? Having a good lawyer can help enormously, but I believe in high-profile jury trials, jurors take the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard particularly seriously because they, like judges, know their verdict will be scrutinized and second-guessed by the public. It is a tough legal standard to overcome, and that extra care in evaluating it may benefit high profile defendants. But once convicted or after they plead guilty, judges are loathe to give any breaks – often overcompensating to avoid allegations of coddling. 

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Cameron Douglas is serving hard time for more than just simple possession of drugs. He is a young man who had every opportunity and still can’t seem to get his life together. The experts may also be right that just giving him significantly more time won’t help anyone. But that applies to every drug addict, not just the son of Michael and grandson of Kirk. This particular addict, however, may be getting a special kind of treatment only available to celebrities or, in this case, their kin.

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