Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and pugnacious lawyer who gained fame representing high-profile defendants, from Claus von Bulow to O.J. Simpson, says it is true: The legal system treats celebrities differently from average folks.
But for the celebrities, he adds, that’s not always a good thing.
“Every celebrity case I’ve been involved in – I’ve been involved in a great many – the one thing you can be sure of is they don’t get the same justice as everybody else,” Dershowitz says.
“It could be worse, it could be better, it’s never the same,” he tells Chris Cuomo, in an interview for the ABC News/Yahoo series, “Newsmakers.”
If you’re in serious legal trouble, being a bold-faced name can only help, he says.
“A, You get a much better lawyer. B, it’s not going to get lost. Everybody is going to be watching everything,” he says.
“The judges will be on their best behavior. Jurors will be thinking about how many books they can write after they get out of the jury room. Everybody is going to see this as a career maker and in the end I think the defendant generally will benefit,” he says. “Now it depends; every case is different. If the defendant is guilty, and guilty as could be, maybe not.”
But can it be worse if you’re a celebrity?
“Oh, of course,” Dershowitz tells Cuomo.
“You get somebody who commits a relatively minor offense that under normal circumstances wouldn’t even attract the attention of the police, and it becomes a big story. (There is) pressure on the prosecutor not to treat them differently, so they end up treating them differently -- and so some famous people get treated unfairly the other way.”
The acquittal of O.J. Simpson on charges of murdering his wife is often put front and center as the most egregious example of celebrity justice. But Dershowitz, the appellate adviser for Simpson’s defense team, says he doesn’t think so.
“We didn’t win the case, they lost it. They blew it, they made the worst possible mistakes,” Dershowitz says.
“They (the prosecution) said, ‘O.J., try on the glove.’ Do you know that under California law they could have made him try on the glove outside the presence of the jury first, to see if it fit? And if it didn’t fit they wouldn’t have made fools of themselves in front of the jury,” he says.
“They put on police officers who we could prove were lying. … We caught them tampering with the evidence. We didn’t win -- they lost.”
The outspoken attorney, now 74, is just as blunt in criticizing the prosecutors in the case of George Zimmerman, the Florida neighborhood watch officer charged in the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.
“I think the prosecutor is going to be laughed out of court, in terms of charging him with murder,” he says. “This is not deliberate, willful murder. At most this could be manslaughter and like in some other cases when you overcharge you risk losing everything. So he might go completely scot-free.”
In addition to his criminal defense and appellate work, Dershowitz is recognized as one of the leading defenders of civil and individual rights. He says is he extremely concerned about how the Internet can affect privacy rights.
“I think we’re seeing privacy diminish not by laws … but by young people who don’t seem to value their privacy,” Dershowitz says.
“I’m worried about privacy because of the young people who don’t give a damn about their privacy, who are prepared to put their entire private lives online,” he says.
“They put stuff on Facebook that 15 years from now will prevent them from getting the jobs they want. They don’t understand that they are mortgaging their future for a quick laugh from a friend.
“You know, when I was growing up my mother would always say, ‘It will go on your permanent record.’ There was no ‘permanent record.’ If there were a ‘permanent record,’ I’d never be able to be a lawyer. I was such a bum, in elementary school and high school. … There is a permanent record today and it’s called the Internet.”