The observation is going around (brought to me by Mrs. Laquedem) that Paris Hilton spent more time in jail for violating probation on her misdemeanor conviction than L. Lewis Libby will on his felony convictions. On a risk-reward, or rather risk-punishment analysis, this makes sense; Mr. Libby and his failing memory are less dangerous to his neighbors than Miss Hilton and her Bentley convertible are to hers.
Mr. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison, from which President Bush has excused him, so his having to do without actual prison time isn't the fault of the judicial system. For that reason, it's not fair to compare his sentence with hers. Even after the President's commutation of his sentence, Mr. Libby is still subject to a fine of $250,000, which is 217 times the fine of $1,150 imposed on Miss Hilton.
Sometimes judges do compare the sentences of the powerful with those of the poor. In 1938, Richard Whitney, a former president of the New York Stock Exchange, pleaded guilty to embezzling $800,000 from the estate of his father-in-law. (He had also embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the New York Stock Exchange Gratuity Fund and the New York Yacht Club.) He was sentenced to 5 to 10 years in prison.
A few weeks later, a petty thief was convicted of stealing $40 of goods. The sentencing judge reportedly said something along these lines: "Some people say there's one law for the rich and another for the poor. That's not the case in this court. Mr. Whitney was sentenced to five years for stealing $800,000. That's $160,000 a year or $440 a day, or about $20 an hour. You stole $40. That's two hours' worth of Mr. Whitney's sentence and that is your sentence."