Should sports stars charged with Crimes be treated more harshly?
In the well-known South African case, Oscar “Oz” Pistorius the famous amputee athlete also referred to as “the Blade Runner,” was arrested and charged in the fatal shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013. He was convicted and received a five-year sentence for culpable homicide and a concurrent three-year suspended prison sentence for a separate reckless endangerment conviction.
Pistorius is due to be released from prison in the coming days, after serving 10 months for killing his girlfriend.
Earlier this year Rugby players Beau Falloon and Jamie Dowling were stood down by Gold Coast Titans for alleged drug offences and Karmichael Hunt was “fined $30,000, suspended for six weeks, and stripped of his vice-captaincy by rugby union authorities after pleading guilty to drug charges.” He was not convicted for his drug related offending. He remains criminal record-free, despite having in his possession of more than 12 grams of cocaine.
These cases had broad media attention and brought with them criticism that sports stars and famous people in general get off lightly when it comes to being charged in the criminal justice system. Should sports stars who get charged with criminal offences be treated more harshly?
Yes: They are in the public eye and have greater responsibilities
“With greater power comes greater responsibility.” For good or for bad, sports stars and celebrities are role models. Young people in particular are obsessed with the celebrity lifestyle. Sports stars and other famous people are often more influential than parents or even peers.
Since sports stars are constantly in the public eye, even if it is bad publicity for an outbreak in public or an illegal activity, fans (often children) get the impression that whatever they are doing including drinking and drugs is an acceptable norm in our society. Therein lies the argument that sports stars need to be treated more harshly when committing criminal offences, to promote (as criminal defence lawyers would call it) “general deterrence” and set an example to the young and impressionable. Harsh punishment and sentencing on sports stars who commit criminal offences would effectively deter others from following in their footsteps.
No: Equal Justice for All
Should a sports star be punished for being famous?
Sports stars have the same basic rights as everyone else. Just because we as a society place them on pedestal does not mean they are any better or different than you or I. We are the ones who have put them in the spot light and they should not have to pay for it by receiving harsher penalties.
In the case of Karmichael Hunt, he did not have a criminal record and showed remorse for his actions by entering an early plea. It has also been revealed that Hunt assisted authorities in implicating other sports stars who were involved in drugs. As a result, the magistrate did not convict him of supplying a dangerous drug because it would have stymied his chances of playing internationally. Instead he pleaded guilty to four counts of drug possession.
By treating sports stars differently and imposing harsher penalties, punishment would be based on their occupation, wealth and status instead of on the basic principal equal justice for all. Karmichael Hunt had no prior criminal record and showed remorse for his actions. There is a strong argument that that he should be afforded the same rights and leniency as anyone else who was charged with a crime and had no previous convictions.
Does money and fame buy you justice?
Sports stars and other celebrities make more money than you or I so it is financially easier for them to pay hefty fines or bail themselves out because the portion of what they are required to pay is much smaller in comparison to what they earn.
Many argue that the way the legal system and society is set up is that it allocates opportunities for the rich and famous to win the justice lottery. Sports stars and celebrities have the largest budget for a criminal lawyer and can afford to retain the best and the brightest criminal defence lawyers.
“Extra Curial Punishment”- “Humiliation as a punishment”
We very often see criminal lawyers for sports stars argue, on sentencing, that “extra-curial punishment” had been inflicted upon the offender. That is, the court must take into account the loss or detriment imposed on an offender by persons other than the sentencing court. Excessive media coverage, loss of employment and public humiliation can often be seen as “extra-curial punishment”, leading to a lighter sentence by the court for sports stars. They are also often segregated from the general prison population, for their own protection, as a result of their profile and the dangers they face whilst in custody. Another argument raised for a lighter sentence
The scales of justice do seem to tip in favour of the famous receiving lighter sentences when committing criminal offences.