L.A. County Sherrif’s Ticket Paris Hilton for Using the Bike Lane in her SUV

From TMZ:

Cops to Paris Hilton: Bike Lane is Not for Cars

Reality television star Paris Hilton was cited by L.A. County Sheriff’s for driving her black SUV into a bike lane.  Apparently traffic was moving to slowly for the Hotel Heiress on Santa Monica Boulevard last night, so she decided to put her schedule ahead of the safety of any cyclist who was trying to use the lane.  She was cited for "unsafe passing." 

As you might expect, the story is already going viral on the Internet; but here’s the real question…when’s the last time you heard of the Sheriff’s ticketing someone for violating the bike lane?  Also, does anyone want to take bets on whether or not any of news coverage of Hilton’s folly will mention the numerous complaints about safety involving the construction of that lane?


  • DW

    Wow! She drives like the Governor’s wife!

  • e.n

    yeah, she drives like an entitled rich douche.

  • tiresias

    rich b—-!

  • BIkeHair

    Hats off to Count PD.

  • The Dynamic Mumenshantz

    Just another reason to hate her.

  • Bet the fine for her will be the equivalent of a penny for the rest of us. Too bad they don’t use the income based fine system in most of Europe.

  • DW

    Fortunately, WKLis, we have a little thing called a Constitution. Take a look at the 14th Amendment.

  • DW, it seems a bit of a stretch to conclude that income based fines are a violation of the equal protection clause. They might be considered a violation of the 8th amendment prohibition against excessive fines, but that hasn’t been incorporated against the states.

    It’s also not clear that a fine (which is intended as a deterrent) is inherently excessive simply because it’s proportional to income. Three-strikes laws that put people in jail for life over small-dollar theft have been ruled in compliance with the 8th amendment, so it’s not clear that a fine comprising an extremely small fraction of income would be.

    Personally, I’d like to see some local government give it a try. The extreme regressiveness of traffic fines is a pretty serious issue.

  • “They might be considered a violation of the 8th amendment”

    What a wonderful world we live in, that a fine might be considered “cruel and unusual punishment”.

  • DW

    It’s definitely a 14th Amendment issue. Equal protection means that everyone would get the same fine for the same violation(s).

    Three-Strike passes muster because is accumlative. If you said, “You’re poor, so the first crime is treated like the third,” then you’d have a problem.

    And, if you can give someone extra-intense punishment because they’re rich, then it’s equally fair to give someone extra-intense punishment because they’re poor. Both ideas are go against American values.

  • DW

    Drew, may I suggest you read the entire 8th Amendment. It’s not long:

    “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

    The fine issue is completely separate from “cruel and unusual.” Back to elementary school civics class for you.

  • Drew, the 8th amendment reads:

    “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

    It’s not that excessive fines are cruel and unusual, but that they are explicitly forbidden by the 8th amendment. The definition of an excessive fine is obviously open to interpretation and that prohibition currently only applies to fines levied by the federal government (though the court could decide to incorporate that clause against the states as it has the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause).

    Since judges will sometimes set bail amounts based on ability to pay, I doubt fines applied using some uniform standard would be forbidden.

  • I’d say that’s an extraordinarily liberal interpretation of “Equal Protection”. If you believe the 14th amendment implies that fines have to be absolutely equal, then we disagree. I think if the fine has a relatively equal impact on the person fined then they have been sufficiently “equally protected”. Income proportional fines would obviously meet that standard.

    What’s the point of a fine if it’s meaningless to the person fined?

  • DW

    If you think the courts are going to allow a $100 fine for someone running a red light who makes $10,000 a year become a $10,000 fine for someone making $1,000,000, you are out of your mind.

    By your standard, the unemployed should pay no fines.

  • I expressed my “standard” as a sufficient one, not a necessary one. I don’t believe the poor should pay no fines, but I also don’t think your interpretation of equal protection is reasonable or backed by any precedent. I doubt the courts would consider fines applied by some uniform non-discriminatory standard to be in violation of the 14th amendment.

    When judges set bail amounts orders of magnitude higher for wealthy high-profile defendants, does that violate equal protection?

    Does any means-tested government programs violate equal protection?

    The Finnish constitution declares all citizens equal under the law, but income based fines are not considered in violation. I’d like to see it attempted here, and if some court rules it unconstitutional, so be it. I don’t think it’s as clear cut as you impy though.

  • DW

    The Finnish constitution allows people to be fined for “defaming a religion.” So, I’m not too impressed by Finnish law and don’t want to see it brought to America, do you?

  • Spokker

    There’s no need to impose income-based fines. You also get points on your driving record for infractions right? So you could technically lose your license if you wrack up too many.

    Though I don’t know how many points are given for each infraction. Certainly driving in the bike lane should net you a fair amount of points.

  • DW, there’s no need for that sort of attack. I’m quite fond of our constitution. My point was that courts of law have often interpreted vague clauses like “equal protection” in any number of ways. The idea that it must strictly mean equal dollar amount for equal crime is, frankly, absurd. Could you provide any precedent indicating otherwise?

    By your own standard we’re already violating equal protection by giving “extra-intense punishment” to the poor by making them pay what amounts to a huge sum of money, while the rich have effectively a zero intensity punishment.

    Why is it only fines that are subject to your strict standard? Wouldn’t progressive state income taxes be equally problematic?

    Spokker, yes the point system is nice a backstop that prevents the wealthy from completely running amok. I’m glad we have it. It still allows people to get away with a few violations per year with effectively no consequences though.

  • Spokker

    So set aside a budget for citations and you can get away with some stuff too.

    Imagine, just stop going to Starbucks and you’ll have enough money for a carpool violation once a month. But if you like coffee that’s a choice you make.

  • DW

    Alec, although it certainly seems that way at times, taxes are not fines. But, personally, I think progressive tax schemes also violate the 14th Amendment. I haven’t looked it up, but I’d guess that challenge has been made in the past.

  • DW, my point was to question why your interpretation of equal protection applies only to fines but not to taxes. I guess it’s not surprising that you believe progressive taxation is in violation of the 14th amendment as well (by your logic even a flat tax might be in violation). I’m afraid precedent is not on your side in either belief though.

    Spokker :-)

  • DW

    Alec, why do you think there’s not a single state that has fines based on the income of the code violator?

  • DW
  • The 16th Amendment provides for an income tax, which makes the 14th Amendment “equal protection” moot. Nevertheless, different amounts of bail are often set for different people – for example someone with resources to flee the country will get a higher bail set than someone who is grounded and has connections in the community.

    Finland, and most other countries, value community to a higher degree than the individual. The United States has always valued liberty and individualism over the collective good and the goals of society. Other countries allow the majority to, through their elected representatives, enact laws that would be unconstitutional in the United States. I think that DW’s argument about a particular Finnish law is a classic strawman, and that we could learn from what other countries do, similar to the same learning that other countries have over the US.

  • “The Finnish constitution allows people to be fined for “defaming a religion.” So, I’m not too impressed by Finnish law and don’t want to see it brought to America, do you?”

    Classic definition of a straw man: http://www.drury.edu/ess/Logic/Informal/Strawman.html

  • DW

    Ok, Calwatch, try this on for size: I don’t care how they do it in Finland. This isn’t Finland. I like this country better than Finland. If you prefer Finland, see if they’ll let you live in their collectivist paradise.

  • Again, a non sequitur strawman argument. I don’t have to like everything about Finland. Certainly I couldn’t stand the weather. We need to adopt the best practices from around the world, regardless of it comes from the United States, Finland, China, Canada, or where-ever. I don’t believe in American exceptionalism, but I don’t believe in Chinese exceptionalism or European exceptionalism either.

    Currently judges and prosecutors have the discretion to adjust fines downward appropriately depending on circumstances. Many times these are economic circumstances. People have challenged this deal-making, and the disprarate sentences that result, but it still stands, and is constitutional. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=511302 Perhaps we should increase fines for everyone, and allow people to plead their case to the Court. That would have the same effect.

  • DW

    “Perhaps we should increase fines for everyone, and allow people to plead their case to the Court.”

    Well, your Finnish buddies, who have those practices you so love, fined a guy $103,600 for doing 47 in a 31 zone.

    Good luck getting that written into law. Really, it’s been fun discussing this with you, but the fact that you aren’t grounded in reality does get tiresome.

  • Until we get control and put this on the ballot, or have the Legislature pass a law on this. With the continuing economic crisis, if sent to the voters income based assessments would pass easily.

  • DW

    “With the continuing economic crisis, if sent to the voters income based assessments would pass easily.”

    Only if the taxtakers outnumber the taxpayers. When that happens, it’s party over.

  • DW, I’m not sure why it hasn’t been done in the U.S. yet, but I’m not at all convinced that it has anything to do with its constitutionality. A post on a libertarian blog (even a very smart libertarian blog) is not the same as a legal precedent, so I’m going to ignore his hand waving regarding the legality of such fines.

    Tyler Cowen suggests that if there’s an epidemic of speeding (which most people on this blog would probably agree with), then we should raise the flat fine. The problem is that the fine is already at a point where it can be seriously injurious to a significant segment of the population, while still not being large enough to matter at all to another significant portion of the population. Very few drivers have any interest in raising the base fine because they already view the impacts as potentially severe (if not on themselves then on others).

    From an economic perspective, drivers end up setting some effective speed limit above the real limit based on some implicit assumptions about the likelihood of being caught and the impact of the penalty. Since people tend to travel at the speed of traffic rather than the posted speed, the poor generally end up traveling at this higher speed as well, even though it doesn’t really align with their economic incentives. Since speed stops are fairly random (at best), the poor end up penalized for the following an effective speed limit set by those with different economic incentives. If penalties were relatively stiffer, we wouldn’t necessarily have that problem.

    Personally, I’d like to see a minimum fine similar to the current fines, with the fine increasing as a percentage of income above some minimum income relative to the local median. I’m sure there’d be a legal challenge (and it might even work), but I doubt it would be based solely on equal protection.

    calwatch: That’s the reason I mentioned state taxes and not federal taxes: the 16th only applies to the federal government. If equal protection were relevant in restricting state/local fines it would probably also be relevant in restricting state/local taxes. IMHO, there’s not much reason to think that’s actually the case though. :-)

  • I’m getting a bit embarrassed about having this discussion in the context of this tawdry article. So this will probably be my final post on this matter. :-)


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