Prisontime in Paris


Who is Paris Hilton? I don’t know, either, and like you, I don’t care. But I cannot avoid seeing her name and pictures all over the news because of her latest brush with the law. Now it may be, and almost certainly is, true that she is a nonentity whose only claim to fame is that — she’s famous !! — thanks to plenty of money to spend on publicists, personal representatives, and other flunkies, whose sole purpose is to put her in the news and keep her there.

What makes her worth talking about, therefore, is not her accomplishments, which, to my admittedly scant knowledge, are non-existent. It is her encounters with the justice system that justify writing about her, because it illustrates the nature of that system beautifully.

She was arrested last September, and found to have a blood alcohol of .08 — the minimum level that justifies arrest. The original charge of Driving Under the Influence was later reduced to Alcohol Related Reckless Driving. She was placed on probation, fined about 1500, and her driving license was suspended for four months. Subsequently she was stopped by police three times and charged with driving with a suspended license. She failed to attend an alcohol education class ordered by the judge. After being caught for the fourth time driving with a suspended license, she has been sentenced to 45 days in jail.

To my knowledge, Ms. Hilton injured no one while behind the wheel, and damaged no one’s property. The only complaints against her have been brought by the state. There seems to be a consensus that her jail time serves her right, for thumbing her nose at the law.

But what is the law all about? Isn’t it about protecting people’s rights? Thus, if she had injured or killed someone, or destroyed someone’s property, the law would quite property be brought to bear upon her. But she’s done nothing like that; the only injured party is the state, which is responding to her ignoring its demands by placing her in jail. And the jail sentence is unusual, as I understand it, because most "offenders" with similar sentences have them reduced, or serve in work release, or home confinement with an ankle-bracelet. Her punishment, in other words, is only partly related to her "crime," and partly to teaching a lesson to others who might attach insufficient importance to the huffings and puffings of a judge.

The state, in other words, places itself on an equal standing with the sovereign citizen. Claiming to be the servant of the public, it demands to be served by the public. It has rights, which it has given itself, and which you dare not ignore. Doing so is an offense punishable by imprisonment. Its rules are the "law" because it says they are. The state has the authority to punish those who ignore it because it has given itself that authority. It can determine how much alcohol in your blood qualifies you as a criminal. It can make driving your automobile without its permission (i.e., license) a crime. (Of course, it charges you for that license, just as it charges you for a license for your car.) It can punish you for driving it faster than the speed it has determined to be the maximum. It can make you attend classes to improve your behavior. You may challenge that authority, in which case you may find yourself in a court owned and operated by your adversary, operating under your adversary’s rules, with a judge in the pay of — guess whom?

Do we still call this government by the people, for the people, and of the people? Not if our eyes are open, and we are conscious. Rather, we have government by, for, and of government itself. And don’t forget it, or you could end up in jail, too!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.