How Bieber's War on Photographers Could Cost Him

Suzy Byrne
Yahoo CelebrityMay 16, 2014
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When it comes to taking shirtless selfies, Justin Bieber's motto is to go "Overboard." Beyond that, he seems to have developed some strict rules regarding picture taking, which could land him in hot water.

For the third time in one week, the "Boyfriend" singer is in the spotlight for untoward behavior related to unauthorized snapshots. Let's recap, shall we? A lawsuit has been filed against the star by photographer Manuel Munoz, who claims Bieber's bodyguard cornered him in a Miami Beach Subway restaurant bathroom, assaulting him, damaging his camera, and taking his memory card. The incident took place in January on the same night Bieber was arrested for suspected DUI, according to TMZ.

The 20-year-old is currently being investigated by Los Angeles police for attempted robbery after a run-in with a woman he thought was taking photos of him with her cellphone while he played miniature golf Monday night at Sherman Oaks Castle Park in Los Angeles. And earlier that day, while visiting a stable for some shirtless horseback riding (oh yes, he did), he called a woman a "b---h" for taking his picture and subsequently sicced his bodyguards on her. She didn't back down and filmed the exchange.

[Related: Justin Bieber Accused of Attempted Robbery in L.A.]

These may seem like minor offenses, but according to legal expert Tamara Rice Lave, they could have serious repercussions.

"The problem for Mr. Bieber is that robbery is a felony strike and mandatory prison, between two years and five years," she says. "Now will a prosecutor actually want Bieber to plead to a robbery? It's a pretty de minimus robbery as far as they go — it's likely to be negotiated down. The problem is, that's still a crime of moral turpitude, which can have immigration consequences. He could be deported for this."

"Robbery is the taking of something against someone's will by force or fear," explains Lave, an associate professor of law at University of Miami, who spent a decade as a deputy public defender in San Diego. "You don't have to have a gun. You don't have to have a knife, you don't have to beat someone up, and you don't even have to intend to keep it forever. It could just be trying to keep it temporarily and it is still considered robbery."

As far as the Subway bathroom drama in Miami Beach, while he wasn't even there — his bodyguard is accused of using muscle — Bieber could still be held responsible.

"The criminal law allows people to be held responsible for the acts of other people if they asked them to do or they conspired with them to do it," she says. "That is also a felony and he could get up to five years in prison for that. If they think that Bieber aided and abetted in some way, encouraged it to happen, told him how to do it, he could face the same charge: robbery."

Lave says that if Bieber ends up being charged in either of these cases, he should be seriously worried.

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"I can't emphasize this enough: This conduct is much more serious than the other things that he is allegedly involved in," she says, referring to his DUI arrest and accused vandalism. "Under California law, if you are convicted of two strikes and any third felony, you can get life in prison — 25 to life. I know it seems crazy that I'm talking about a robbery, prison, and everything else, but understand there are people who get convicted of a robbery for lesser conduct than this."

She adds, "This is the moment Mr. Bieber should change his tune because he is starting to be considered to be charged with much more serious conduct. Robbery is not something to mess around with."

You may also recall that the Canadian crooner is in the middle of another lawsuit with Miami photographer Jeffrey Binion, who alleges that the star's bodyguards threatened him with a holstered gun and assaulted him in an attempt to get his memory card last June. The Biebs's unfortunate deposition incident was related to that case.

All these disputes are on top of several other legal troubles. Bieber has been arrested twice this year: His January DUI case is still pending and so is an assault charge for allegedly hitting a Toronto limousine driver several times in the back of the head in December. He's also being investigated for felony vandalism for egg-gate.

Bieber is certainly not the first famous face to travel down this rocky road with unwelcome snappers. In the 1980s, Sean Penn had some epic battles with paps, especially during the Madonna era, as detailed in Sean Penn's 7 Most Out-RAGE-ous Moments. Most memorably, the couple was shooting Shanghai Surprise in Macau when a photographer broke into their hotel room and Penn and his bodyguard dangled the intruder over the ledge of the ninth-floor balcony. They were arrested for attempted murder and taken to jail, but later escaped when their cell door was left open. (Sounds like a movie plot, right?) A year later, he was pardoned from the Portuguese government for the incident. That fiasco didn't curb Penn's temper. In 2009, he was charged with battery and vandalism for punching a photog and breaking his camera in L.A. He was sentenced to three years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and anger management class.

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Beyond that, Alec Baldwin's disputes with the paparazzi have become legendary. Earlier this week, following his arrest in Manhattan, he was raging about one on Twitter. Russell Brand has had several incidents of his own, including an arrest in New Orleans in 2012 for breaking a shutterbug's iPhone, and a $550,000 lawsuit from a man claiming the comedian tried to run him over. Kanye West was sentenced to two years probation after a spat last year. And who can forget bald Britney Spears taking on the pack of paparazzi outside her home with an umbrella in 2007? Oh, not us.

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It's certainly a complicated issue. Stars hoping to sell their songs, movies, and, um, gold sneakers are dependent on attention from photographers, the media, and the public. But clearly Bieber and these other pap ragers feel like they've been pushed to this extreme.

In Bieber's case, we can only hope that the consequences for such rage don't also reach the extreme.