June 8, 2007 — -- Famed Los Angeles defense attorney Mark Geragos said Paris Hilton is being treated too harshly -- by the courts, by the media and by the general public.
In the past two decades, Geragos has defended some of America's most high-profile criminally accused, though he does not currently represent Hilton. He said he believes Hilton would have served even less time if she weren't a celebrity.
"Paris Hilton did more time because of who she is," Geragos told ABC News.
Perhaps most widely recognized for defending Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson and Winona Ryder, Geragos is also known for representing Susan McDougal in the Clinton administration Whitewater scandal and for winning a multimillion dollar lawsuit against New York Life Insurance and AXA for their business practices during the years of the Armenian genocide.
In all his years as an attorney, however, Geragos said he has never seen someone given a sentence as severe as Paris Hilton's for what she did.
"Actually, she is getting special treatment, but not in the way people think," Geragos said. "She actually served almost twice or three times as much time as anybody would on a 45-day sentence. … The fact remains that if she was Paris Coreen instead of Paris Hilton, she wouldn't have done more than 12 hours."
Geragos noted that with California prisons in a state of emergency at double their intended capacity, it actually made more sense to have an offender such as Hilton serve an alternative sentence.
"What the story is for real — the kind of understory ˜ is that the jail is overcrowded and the sheriff doesn't have enough funding," Geragos said. "He is managing and he is making decisions and he is making pretty good decisions from where I sit. Because frankly, when Paris Hilton was released, I don't want to go home and lock the doors.
"I would rather keep people in there who are a threat than those who are clearly not. Who are you going to let go? Are you going to let go serious felons? Are you going to let go predators? No, of course not. … I don't think there is anybody sitting here thinking right now, 'Oh my God. Paris Hilton is on the street. I better watch out!'"
Geragos acknowledged that public reaction seems to support Hilton's incarceration but wants people to realize she is not just getting off easy due to fame or fortune.
"So you have to understand that there are a couple of messages here. Number one, she didn't get special treatment except more of a punishment. Number two, why is it that we are warehousing all of these people when they could be doing something else? It is a little ridiculous, I think, to have a bed used for a Paris Hilton as opposed to someone else who might be in more suitable care when they are in county jail."