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Various stakeholders in the criminal justice system and the general public have frequently debated whether certain persons are above the justice, or whether the criminal justice system treats all persons fairly without any partiality. It is frequently said that the legal system is divided into two: one serves the rich, powerful and/ or the famous, while the second systems serves the rest.
One may argue that just like any other system made by man, the legal system has its own flaws, however, the frequency and trend of such flaws raises eyebrows. The rich, famous and/ or the powerful have frequently received preferential treatment under the same legal system we all ascribe to and this can be evidenced by the number of high profile cases that receive lenient judgments.
Examples of high-profile persons that have been favored by the lady justice include Paris Hilton, O J Simpson, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Vick, Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, among many others. Michael Vick’s case displayed just how long the legal system had take long to act on high-profile persons as it would to the rest of the population.
Michael Vick’s Case
Michael Vick is an NFL player who previously played as an Atlanta Falcons quarterback, and is well known person (celebrity) by any standards. In April 2007, Vick was indicted in an illegal dog-fighting ring that raised dogs for fighting and killed the ones that lost in the various matches.
Investigation into the case centered on Vick’s 15-acre property after police suspected that the NFL player was involved in a dog-fighting ring. At the search of his property, police discovered more than 70 dogs, some of which showed signs of injury.
Police investigations revealed that Vick’s property contained extensive dog-fighting facilities and the ring had operated for close to five years. Further investigation by federal authorities revealed the existence of an interstate dog-fighting ring, and in some sections, authorities found evidence of drug use and gambling.
Gory evidences acquired from the property included abuse, torture and execution of dogs that did not perform to the required standards (Gorant, pp. 211). Consequently, Vick and four other persons were indicted on felony charges.
In November 2008, after several investigations by police, Michael Vick was moved to Virginia to face charges of federal felony dog fighting financing the dog fighting ring, execution of dogs, and gambling. He received a 23-month prison sentence at a federal prison and a 3-year term in the Virginia courts.
He also lost his position at the Atlanta Falcons as they cancelled his contract. Later, he filed for a plea agreement and the charge was dropped, and was released on July 2009, having been in jail for 19 months of the 23-month punishment. His federal sentence was dropped due to good behavior and only paid a $2500 fine. The rest of the charges were dropped too due to his plea agreement.
Even though the 23-month sentence given to Vick was unfair by means for the crime he committed, a regular citizen would have received a longer penalty. Each of the six charges for which Vick was convicted of carry a maximum sentence of five years for each charge, however, Vick only received a 23-month sentence when all the evidence to a ring that bred dogs for fighting, executed non-performing dogs, and engaged in gambling over the dog fights (Adler, 2011).
Vick only received an extended since the legal system was tired of celebrities or the rich acting foolishly in recognition of the fact that they would be pardoned by law.
This was a warning to the rest of the rich, famous, or celebrities to bring their act together and recognize that the legal system acts with discretion. In Vick’s case, the judgment was fair, however, the legal system had taken long to act on persons who simply think they can anything and get away with it.
An Unfair Justice System
Either way, Michael Vick’s brief moment with the law presented a truer picture of the pressure placed on the legal system: the courts and the judges, or jury, when handling a high-profile criminal case. When the justice does not live up to its expectations, public confidence wanes off and the suspicion of a different system for the famous or rich becomes even truer.
Consider the case of Martha Stewart, a highly successful American businesswoman who participated in illegal stock trading after having access to insider information. Despite the magnitude of the case, Stewart received preferential treatment at the prison, even taking up a job. She was then released after serving a one –year sentence and placed under house confinement.
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The lght sentence was attributed to the fact that “the courts have been tied in knots as prosecutors and judges struggle to find an established legal duty that people violate when they trade on inside information” (Turow, 2004). Stewart’s case was another instance of how “justice is very different for the rich and poor” (Turow, 2004).
This paper does not advocate for harsher penalties for celebrities, rather, it pushes on the fair treatment of all persons irrespective of the status in the society. If a person is involved in any illegal activity, they should the full force of the law. Michael Vick’s case served to remind us of how long the legal system had taken long to act tough on well-known persons.
Adler, James. Michael Vick Dogfighting Scandal. 2011. Web. <https://www.liveabout.com/michael-vick-dogfighting-scandal-1336811>
Gorant, Jim. The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption. NY: Penguin Group USA, 2011.
Turow, Scott. Cry no tears for Martha Stewart. The New York Times, May 27. 2004. Web. <https://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/27/opinion/cry-no-tears-for-martha-stewart.html>