Good Question: Do Prominent People Get Perks In Court?
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The wife of a former Minnesota Vikings player and current restaurant owner runs into a man and kills him in a car accident, leaves the scene, yet she’s not in jail. The sister of the victim, Anousone Phanthavong, suspects special treatment.
“Rich people can get away and poor people, I say, they would be sitting in a jail hall right now,” said Vilayphone Phanthavong.
Amy Senser’s attorney, Eric Nelson, disagrees, of course.
“Whether you are Amy Senser, Joe Senser or ‘Joe-six pack,’ it’s the same way for everybody,” said Nelson.
So, do prominent people get special treatment?
“My experience is that it’s the opposite. The police will act as quick or quicker with a prominent person because they don’t want to be accused of any disparity,” said criminal defense attorney Joe Friedberg.
Friedberg has represented some big names, including former Minnesota Viking Randy Moss in his assault case.
“I just don’t believe that celebrities get any particular break. It’s all you can do to beat this, ‘We ain’t giving you a great deal because you got a big-time lawyer or big-time defendant,’” said Friedberg.
As for the Senser case and Minnesota’s hit and run law, you have to stop only if you know that you hurt someone. It has to be “immediately demonstrable” that someone is hurt.
On night of the crash, it was dark and construction cones were everywhere. Plus, just because Amy Senser says she was the driver, doesn’t mean that she was the driver, so the State Patrol may not have probable cause to make an arrest.
“Most people in Hennepin County who commit this crime and do not have any kind of prior record, don’t go to prison,” said Friedberg.
Rich and famous people do have access to money, which allows them access to the top legal representation.
“Well, it might buy you a better lawyer. It might,” said Friedberg, who added, “there are a lot of very expensive lawyers that are not good lawyers.”
He said the real issue with the perception of special treatment comes from Hollywood. It’s hard to not wonder when people are sentenced to 60 days in jail, but end up spending 20 hours.
“I have no idea how that system works,” laughed Friedberg, saying that California appears to handle high-profile people very differently from the rest of the country.
The jails and prisons are severely overcrowded in Los Angeles County, so when celebrities get released so quickly as standard procedure, it reeks of special treatment.
In Minnesota recently, two high-profile defendants, Denny Hecker and Tom Petter, both had top-notch attorneys and both men were sent to prison.
“They didn’t get any deal at all,” said Friedberg.