« "How Colleges Are Preparing Students for a Country Where Pot Is Legal" | Main | Notable early Massachusetts legislative response to elimination of juve LWOP »

January 23, 2014

Why the #@$%! is Justin Beiber's sentencing exposure so low for underage DUI?

The foul-mouthed question in the title of this post was my reaction to reviewing the details in this AP article concerning the charges brought and sentencing ranges in play following troubled pop star Justin Beiber's arrest for drunk driving early this morning.  Here are the basics:

Justin-bieber-mug-600A judge set pop singer Justin Bieber's bail at $2,500 Thursday after police say he drag-raced down a Miami Beach street while under the influence of alcohol. He was charged with DUI, driving with an expired license and resisting arrest.

Bieber was arrested after police said they saw him speeding down a residential street in Miami Beach in a yellow Lamborghini. Officers say he had an expired license, was initially not cooperative when he was pulled over and smelled of alcohol. Police say Bieber later admitted that he had been drinking, smoking marijuana and taking prescription medication....

R&B singer Khalil Amir Sharieff was arrested in the same incident. He is charged with driving under the influence, and his bond was set at $1,000. Police said Khalil was driving a Ferrari. Both Bieber and Khalil appeared briefly in court wearing bright red jail fatigues. They remained silent while defense attorney Roy Black negotiated bond.

Black, a high-profile lawyer whose clients have included Rush Limbaugh and William Kennedy Smith, said he thought the case would proceed "hopefully as any other case would" in light of Bieber's celebrity status.

Authorities say Bieber was arrested after police saw him and Khalil racing two luxury vehicles down the street at 4:09 a.m., with two other vehicles apparently being used to block off the area. Police say Bieber was clocked at 55 to 60 mph in a 30 mph zone. Earlier Thursday, police chief Ray Martinez said at a news conference that the singer was initially not cooperative when the officer pulled him over. Martinez said the singer also had an invalid Georgia driver's license and admitted to smoking marijuana, taking prescription medication and drinking.... Bieber failed a field sobriety test and was taken to the Miami Beach police station for a Breathalyzer, police said. Results haven't been released....

The street where police say Bieber was racing in mid-Miami Beach is a four-lane residential street divided by a grass median dotted with palm trees. Along one side of the street are small apartment buildings, and on the other side are a high school, a youth center, a golf course and a city firehouse....

Thursday's arrest is just the latest in a series of troubling incidents. Bieber has been accused of wrongdoing in California, but has never been arrested or charged. He is currently under investigation in a felony vandalism case after a neighbor reported the pop star threw eggs at his house and caused thousands of dollars of damage....

Under Florida law, people under the age of 21 are considered driving under the influence if they have a blood-alcohol content of .02 percent or more - a level Bieber could reach with one drink.

For a first DUI offense, there is no minimum sentence and a maximum of six months, a fine of $250 to $500, and 50 hours of community service. For anyone under 21, there is an automatic six-month license suspension. A first conviction for drag racing carries a sentence of up to six months, a fine of $500 to $1,000 and a one-year license suspension....

The Florida arrest likely won't affect Bieber's immigration status. According to U.S. immigration law, authorities do not revoke an individual's visa unless the person has been convicted of a violent crime or been sentenced to more than one year imprisonment.

Immigration attorney Ira Kurzban says neither driving under the influence nor driving without a license can make an individual eligible for deportation. Nor would either of those offenses keep Bieber from being readmitted into the U.S. "He's not subject to deportation because of a DUI offense," said Kurzban, "nor is driving with an expired license a deportable offense."

Long-time readers know that, while I think the scale of punishments for many offenses (especially nonviolent ones) in the US is often much too harsh, I have long viewed the scale of punishments for drunk driving to be way too lenient.  In my view based on the innocent lives ended and permanently damaged every day by drunk drivers, the offense of DUi is one of the most persistent and enduring threat to public safety and one that I think modern criminal justice systems out to be do a heck of a lot more to deter and prevent.

For reasons that should be clear from the above description of Justin Beiber's offense conduct, it would seem as though he has committed one of the most aggravated forms of DUI here: he is an underage drinker, was in a residential neighborhood, was going twice the speed limit, resisted arrest, and (I suspect) was very drunk on numerous intoxicants while drag racing. For all those reasons, I want the book thrown at this dangerous (and famous) criminal. But apparently the worst sentence he can possibly get is "six months [in jail], a fine of $250 to $500, and 50 hours of community service." Yeesh.

As I have said before and as I know I will say again: my interest in deterring and incapacitating drunk drivers makes me eager to see rich, celebrity offenders get slammed with every reasonable shaming and alternative sanction possible ranging from having to forfeit their cars to losing driving privileges for years to paying enormous fines IN ADDITION TO whatever prison term is thought to send the right kind of message concerning these kinds of offenses. Sadly, though, I suspect Beiber will end up just getting a slap on the wrist after Roy Black trains him to say he was sorry, and we all will have to worry about whether and when there will be a next time Beiber (and maybe some of his beiliebers) spill blood rather than just oil on a neighborhood road.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers:

January 23, 2014 at 04:35 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Why the #@$%! is Justin Beiber's sentencing exposure so low for underage DUI?:


ANSWER: Because he's a progressive celebrity. Duh!

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jan 23, 2014 5:03:36 PM

Out of curiosity, would you (Professor Berman) support mandatory minimums for DUI offenders? Part of the problem I have seen is that even in states where DUI is punishable by a higher possible punishment, many judges simply hand out wrist-slaps. That is true even for repeat offenders, as well as offenders who have actually killed/injured people (see e.g., the recent case of the Texas drunk driver who killed 4 people and received probation). If you don't support mandatory minimums for DUI offenders, how do you propose actually getting judges to send DUI offenders to jail?

Also, what do you see as the difference between the innocent lives lost and endangered by DUI and the innocent lives lost and endangered by drug trafficking (especially trafficking in extremely destructive drugs such as meth/heroin/oxy/crack)? I know you are very much against the harsh penalties for so-called (and misnamed) "non-violent" drug dealers. I am not being a jerk here, I am actually interested in learning why you view a DUI offender differently than a meth dealer. Or, maybe you don't and I have just misunderstood your position. Thank you.

Posted by: Not really | Jan 23, 2014 6:02:30 PM

The obvious distinction between a DUI driver and a drug dealer is that everything the latter does to his customers, is done with their consent.

Posted by: azazel | Jan 23, 2014 6:10:10 PM

When I was a kid no kid was named Justin. Now there are all sorts of the punks out there.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 23, 2014 7:21:58 PM

It is emotional. Everyone loves Justin. Everyone hates the police and their puppet masters, the Florida prosecutor vermin. Judges know, come down on Justin, and forget about a peaceful life. His fans should hunt them, beat their asses. Whatever the policy questions around drunk driving, nothing comes close to the damage done to our nation by these heinous internal traitors.

Not Really: You mention the devastation. Those products kill hundreds of people a year. Most need to die, being annoying criminals and extremely selfish addicts. Alcohol and tobacco kill hundreds of thousands of people, most with responsibilities and skills in middle age. Alcohol and tobacco are also extremely addictive. So, to be consistent, you must advocate for Draconian measures to ban them, or else stop the stuff about illegal drugs. There is no support for prohibition of alcohol and tobacco.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 23, 2014 8:13:17 PM

Bieber should be deported for this.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 23, 2014 9:39:26 PM

Not really: I am generally supportive of non-prison mandatories in this context based on my belief/hope that they could be crafted to deter and incapacitate --- e.g., I like mandatory ignition locks on cars and/or economic sanctions such as a forfeiture of the car used to drink and drive for first offenders and perhaps a permanent "non-essential driving" ban for repeat offenders.

As azazel notes, most folks can largely avoid the harms of drug dealers by staying away from drug dealers. But even those who do not drive can stay safely away from drunk drivers, as these folks kill and maim folks on highways and even on sidewalks regularly. And yet drug dealers can get decades in prison even for a first offense, while drunk drivers often get to keep driving until they kill someone.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 23, 2014 10:36:47 PM

DAB is advocating nuclear option when conventional sanctions can achieve the same result. If the law is "protector of persons" i.e., everybody is equal under the law, then why should "rich, celebrity offenders get slammed with every reasonable shaming and alternative sanction possible ranging from having to forfeit their cars to losing driving privileges for years to paying enormous fines IN ADDITION TO whatever prison term is thought to send the right kind of message concerning these kinds of offenses." Why shouldn't a 1st offender, no matter how rich or famous she is be treated differently? Could it be that the minimum sanction for a 1st offender might result in the offender having a "wake up" call. .

Posted by: ? | Jan 23, 2014 10:54:03 PM

I am a defense attorney who reads this blog regularly but rarely comments. I felt compelled to do so here because I had exactly the same thoughts as the person who commented immediately above and because I was truly horrified by the comment about Bieber "getting a slap on the wrist after Roy Black trains him to say he was sorry." I absolutely get that the average individual doesn't understand how our adversarial system works and how it fulfills constitutional principles. It scares me that a criminal law professor takes such a dim view of defense attorneys. It scares me even more that the same law professor is a former court clerk.

Posted by: Denean | Jan 24, 2014 12:04:08 AM

Denean: I know you are swimming in a sewer and are incapable of any awareness of the air or land above it. However, the adversarial system is not from the constitution, written by rational people. It is from the disputation method of resolving difficult questions in Scholasticism, OK in 1275 AD, but absolutely ridiculous, idiotic, wasteful, and a total disgrace for your atavistic profession. It has zero validation, except for the generation of worthless legal fees. . We know that for every 5 executions there is one exoneration, with a false positive rate of 20%. That error rate is horrifying after your ilk has generated a $million in legal costs. Please, do not use the argument that the adversarial system has any value whatsoever.

That being said, I tend to agree more with the defense than with Prof. Berman. The DUI machine has not prevented a single accident in real life, ever, not in decades. It is a pretextual money machine to feed the government, a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession. So I not only advocate total resistance, but an all out attack on the prosecutor and its puppet on the bench. Seeking their personal and professional destruction is a duty, and anything short is legal malpractice for the defense.

All decreases in fatalities and serious injury have come from technology, on the front end in car and highway design, and on the back end, in trauma care. The lawyer traitor is deterring the development of the self driving car, all for fear of litigation. Miss a colon in its software, the company gets destroyed by the circling predator. Once, cars drive automatically, there will be no more damage from intoxicated or distracted driving. Instead of arriving in a year, that car will arrive in a decade. Thank the lawyer traitor for the 150,000 unnecessary deaths from drunk driving over the next decade.

Returning to this case, Prof. Berman has yet to cite any damage done by Bieber, yet he gets roughed up by the Miami PD thugs. The biggest, most damaging traitors are their bosses, the prosecutors. One good aspect of the misconduct of the layer thug and its agent the police thugs? His career will rocket upward out of sympathy, since everyone hates the police. They protect no one, and rough up ordinary people.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 24, 2014 12:37:49 AM

There will be a rigorous prosecution so the lawyer can stay in the paper. Black will make a $million before done.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 24, 2014 8:48:51 AM

At least the plea wasn't "not guilty by reason of affluenza"...

I'd like to see a meaningful punishment (i.e., jail time) in this case, but I doubt it for a few reasons:

(1) Some of the facts may be difficult to prove. The police never actually gunned the cars...the 55-60mph is an "estimate" by the police. The breathalyzer results have not been released, which I suspect means that they are over .02, but not something completely insane. Admittedly Bieber failed a field sobriety test, which is bad for him, but blowing a .18 would be far worse.

(2) Ultimately, no one was hurt. No bodies generally equals no punishment for DUIs.

(3) Bieber has a lot of money. Rich people don't get punished for nonviolent crimes--and sometimes even for violent crimes--no matter their circumstances, recidivism, or courtroom conduct. See Lilo, Charlie Sheen. Severe penalties are for the rest of us.

What is clear, though, is that absent a hard message sent now, the prosecutors are going to get several shots at Bieber over the next couple years. He's an accident waiting to happen. I hope the judge actually has some balls and doesn't pull the usual crap when a wealthy celebrity is on trial.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 24, 2014 9:38:39 AM

The old saying: Name and the haircut: six bits.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 24, 2014 9:59:53 AM

In Michigan, people accused of crimes are forbidden by law to leave the state while the case is pending unless they first have the permission of the judge. Make him stay in Florida until his fines and costs are paid, his probation term is completed, and he's done his community service.

Posted by: Greg Jones | Jan 24, 2014 10:39:27 AM

"most folks can largely avoid the harms of drug dealers by staying away from drug dealers"

This vastly overestimates the amount of power that those in poor neighborhoods and housing projects have to avoid drug dealers and the effects of drug dealing (including crime by addicts; addicts nodding off in hallways; syringes in playgrounds; etc.). For those without the privilege of wealth, the effects of drug dealing are not, in fact, avoidable.

Posted by: Laura | Jan 24, 2014 10:39:43 AM

If he goes to an adult prison he will "get punked". He is the definition of "punk"-- by looks and action. So when they sentence him they need to send him to a woman's prison. Punks get punked.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 24, 2014 11:32:44 AM

Amen, Laura! I would love to see all of these early released drug dealers move into the nice suburbs and luxury neighborhoods where most law professors live. Boy, would the for sale signs start popping up.

Posted by: Not really | Jan 24, 2014 12:22:13 PM

Update: My instincts were correct. Two B tests showed Bieber's BAC was below .08.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 24, 2014 2:51:53 PM

As a utilitarian with a rule of law commitment, I favor equal punishment when the law demands it and a public safety mission within the bounds of law. Throwing the book at a celebrity within the bounds of the law serves that public safety mission, I think. That goes for celebrity drug dealers as well as celebrity drunk drivers.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 24, 2014 3:13:57 PM

One (not the only one, but one) of the reasons for the low punishment rate is the vast acceptance of both alcohol use and driving in this country.

The reality is that the public transportation system in much of this country is spotty at best. That translates into a public that sees driving a car to get to where you are going as part of the American way of life. At the same time, most people do not comprehend how much you have to drink to be above the legal limit (barring a law like Florida that sets a lower limit for under-age drinkers) and, as a result, can inaccurately picture themselves get arrested for DWI.

That misperception that anybody can literally stumble into one DWI leads to little legislative support for stiff criminal sanctions on the first DWI (and to some degree leads to competing pressures when dealing with repeat offenders).

Posted by: tmm | Jan 24, 2014 3:17:57 PM

Also, kudos to all the comment which rightly recognize that I think rich famous people should be punished more harshly than regular poor persons who must deal with the real consequences of crime a lot more than rich famous people. And kudos further to those who rightly recognize that I am luck not to be one of the poor people who must deal with the consequences of crime as much as others.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 24, 2014 3:25:09 PM

I agree with Laura and Not really. It is often said that drug enforcement hurts the poor. The truth is that it HELPS the poor, who must rely on public resources for protection from crime (unlike, for example, people who live in gated communities).

As to Justin Bieber, I would sentence him to exactly what the Massachusetts inmate recently obtained the right to get, to wit, a sex change operation. In Justin's case, the sex change would be undertaken to have him become a male.

OK, that's a joke, but I couldn't resist. Justin Bieber has made more money off androgyny than any human being who ever lived.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 24, 2014 4:17:38 PM

Seriously, since when did being under 150 lbs as a male become something to swoon over?

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 24, 2014 4:21:18 PM

Spoke to some of my homies. They had no particular fondness or interest in him nor in his music. Now, he is on their must see list if he has a local concert. Huge jump in street cred from this episode. They particularly liked his handling of the police. They dug his rides, and that he had his posse close off the streets. Very classy in their books.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 25, 2014 2:59:48 AM

Res ipsa --

"Seriously, since when did being under 150 lbs as a male become something to swoon over?"

You'd have to ask 11 and 12 year old girls, who do swooning to the tune of a few zillion dollars a year, many of which seem to wind up in the young Mr. Bieber's pocket.

I share your puzzlement, but, hey, the market is what it is. The market says that androgyny pays. And I can assure you that it pays better than writing law review articles.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 25, 2014 10:43:20 PM

"OK, that's a joke, but I couldn't resist. Justin Bieber has made more money off androgyny than any human being who ever lived."

No, Michaeel Jackson made 100's of times more money than Bieber for being androgynous.

I can't help but notice the police overhyping of the story. I am sure Florida LE is doing everything in their power to round up his level of 0.0148% to 0.02%. Also resisting arrest is always charged when you call a policeperson any name they don't like. Also, urinalysis cannot be used for quantitative analysis of drug levels which is why any detection of illicit drugs is judged "to be impaired". Also, 19 is the legal drinking age in Canada so let's invade them and impose our rules.

That said, Bieber is a punk and should be charged with reckless driving and minor in possession.

Posted by: albeed | Jan 26, 2014 2:48:14 PM

I should also point out that Bieber is no friend of California LE. When LAPD (the worst example of human beings, even worse than the Feds) searched his house in LA with a warrant for drugs, he refused to hand over the password to his cell-phone. He definitely should not unless that was specified on the warrant.

For this, I say "Good for Him".

Posted by: albeed | Jan 26, 2014 2:53:58 PM

albeed --

Me: "Justin Bieber has made more money off androgyny than any human being who ever lived."

You: "No, Michaeel Jackson made 100's of times more money than Bieber for being androgynous."

Wrongo. Jackson made money because he had a good deal of talent and innovation, and because he essentially invented what was then a new art and entertainment form, the video.

Jackson might have been bisexual, but I have no way of knowing and would prefer not to.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 27, 2014 12:44:38 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB