Today, in the electronic pages of The Daily Beast, former New York prosecutor and crime novelist Linda Fairstein pens an impassioned defense of Chris Brown's domestic abuse case sentence, inadvertently exposing her own biases in addition to the system's.
Fairstein argues that media attention, and a rap sheet, is a fair punishment for Brown and "justice" for Rihanna.
Some will cry that his plea deal-five years of probation and 180 days of community service-is "celebrity justice," but I disagree. I think it's an instance in which the media attention to the plight of both celebrities, the assailant and his victim, helped keep the heat on both of them. In Rihanna's case, for the better: She has survived the attack and freed herself of an abusive partner who, as Oprah said, would indeed hit her again. In Brown's case, the media attention made him acknowledge his guilt and be punished for the crime.
So, Rihanna got out of the relationship, and Chris Brown said he did it, and that's the justice our system provides? Probation?
Fairstein even acknowledges that the prosecutors had a really good case — including a victim who was in court and willing to testify.
The prosecutor had the evidence he needed to go forward. Calls to 911 made by the terrified victim and photographs documenting the nature of her injuries: a bloodied face and choke marks that might have served to convict Brown had Rihanna chosen to stand by her man and not cooperate with the district attorney's office.
But she was there, which put the prosecutor in an even better position vis-à-vis even Chris Brown's defense lawyer.
It's at this point that Fairstein's biases start to shine through. She writes:
Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg will sentence Brown to five years of probation and 180 days of community service, in the form of labor. While some will complain that he got off with "only" probation, the disposition in this case is harsher than my 30 years of prosecuting batterers had me betting it would be.
Do you know how Fairstein knows what Schnegg will sentence Brown to? Because that was part of the plea agreement arranged with prosecutors. In Fairstein's 30 years of prosecuting batterers, if the ones she accepted pleas from got off lighter than Brown, it's because Fairstein allowed them to. Prosecutors have a lot of discretion in how to accept pleas, and what pleas to accept and judges generally go along with the sentencing agreements worked out amongst the lawyers.
To that end, Fairstein explains why so many abusers got off light on her watch — and why certain offenders won't ever catch a break.
In the average first arrest of a 20-year-old man with no criminal history and visible means of support-forget R&B star status-most cases are reduced to misdemeanors with a probation period of less than one year. Few communities have the resources to offer meaningful programs that try to re-educate offenders.
In other words, you'll get off easier for beating your partner if:
- You're young;
- You've never been caught and convicted for a crime before (two things which have a lot to do with class, race and financial means in our "justice" system);
- You have money;
- And, implicitly, you can convince prosecutors that you will get into therapy to keep from doing it again (which, Fairstein acknowledges, isn't an option for people without means).
The only thing Fairstein doesn't acknowledge often works in men's favor is race — though anti-abuse advocates like Ted Bunch see all too often their classes for offenders filled exclusively with men of color.
Fairstein (again, a former New York prosecutor) takes Judge Schnegg (an L.A. judge) at her word that Brown is getting treated like any other abuser.
The judge specified that she expects Brown to "be treated the same as any other defendant who would come into this court," so that he will be picking up garbage or removing graffiti-that is, physical labor, which most perps on probation never have to do. He's got to pay a fine and take a year's worth of classes for batterers-and yes, he's young enough to learn something from that.
But, actually, multiple sources confirm that felony domestic violence sentences in L.A. quite often involve a minimum of three months in jail in addition to the fines, counseling and community service that offenders are expected to perform. In fact, given the strength of the prosecutor's case, one would think that at least a couple nights in the clink would not and should not have been off the table.
And if you still aren't convinced that Fairstein has a few biases, check this sentence out:
[Rihanna] ended her relationship with Brown, despite the efforts of some of his older thug role models to shepherd them back together [ emphasis added]
Fairstein's talking about Sean "Diddy" Combs, who is only a "thug role model" if you're a wealthy white woman who thinks all African-American men who produce and perform hip-hop music are "thugs."
Rita Smith, the Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and NOW's President, Kim Gandy, strongly disagree with Fairstein that Brown's sentence represents justice for Rihanna. Gandy tells Radar:
"I was very surprised that he will get no jail time. Paris Hilton got jail time for heaven's sake. This man beat Rihanna to a bloody pulp and he's not going to spend a day in jail," said Kim Gandy, President of the National Organization of Women.
"It's not that Chris Brown didn't get more serious consequences. Most batterers on't get more serious consequences."
Related: California Domestic Violence Charge [Stephen G. Rodriguez & Associates]
California Domestic Violence Laws [California Criminal Defense Lawyers]
Diddy Opened His Home To Chris Brown And Rihanna 'As A Friend' [MTV]