Celebrities who got off easy for serious crimes

While there are certainly pros and cons in the life of a celebrity, we've all wondered if celebrities do, in fact, get an easier ride than the rest of us when it comes to the law. In a 2013 report from The Sentencing Project, researchers suggested that "the United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities."

In a way, this makes sense. The rich can afford better lawyers, and they have access to superior rehabilitation services. For celebrities, it makes even more sense. A judge may take reputation damage into consideration when doling out punishment or may allow for a celebrity to use their platform to make restitution. It makes sense, but it doesn't make it right.

Over the years, we've seen celebrities face minor consequences for major crimes — things like possession, assaults against police officers, and even alleged murder. Maybe the justice system is influenced by star power. You be the judge. Here are some celebrities who got off easy for serious crimes.

Making a small example of Vince Neil

On Dec. 8, 1984, Mötley Crüe rocker Vince Neil (full name Vincent Neil Wharton) reportedly got behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol. In his car that night was Nicholas Dingley, the drummer for Hanoi Rocks. Shortly into the drive, Neil lost control of his vehicle and crashed into another car (via the Los Angeles Times). The two occupants of the other vehicle suffered severe injuries, while Neil's passenger died in the accident.

Neil was arrested after he registered a blood alcohol level of nearly twice the legal limit. In the ensuing legal battle, the Los Angeles District Attorney decided not to pursue a prison sentence, which would hinder Neil's chances of paying restitution to the victims. In the end, Neil was given 30 days in jail, five years of probation, and community service. He was also ordered to pay $2.6 million to the victims, some of which Neil's insurance covered.

Sadly, Neil repeated past mistakes in 2010 and was arrested for another DUI. According to TMZ, Neil was also arrested in 2007 while driving drunk, but he managed to work out a deal with the prosecution and instead pleaded no contest to reckless driving. Despite his past, when the courts sentenced Neil to 15 days in jail and 15 days of house arrest, the rocker said that he felt the sentence was "a little harsh … but they wanted to make an example out of me."

Hitting Floyd Mayweather Jr. back

Floyd Mayweather Jr. has a checkered past when it comes to abusing women. In 2002, the boxer received a suspended sentence on two counts of domestic violence (via The New York Times). In 2004, he was found guilty of battery, after he hit two women in a nightclub. For those charges, he received two more suspended sentences and was fined.

In 2011, as ESPN reported, Mayweather was sentenced to 90 days in jail for battery domestic violence charges resulting from the 2010 alleged assault of Josie Harris. The 90-day sentence was part of a plea deal which saw Mayweather plead guilty to reduced charges in exchange for the prosecution dropping felony and misdemeanor charges that held a maximum sentence of 34 years in prison. Initially, Mayweather was to report to jail on Jan. 6, 2012, but the courts allowed him to delay that until June so that he could box Miguel Cotto.

Luckily for Mayweather, he never even needed to serve the entire sentence. After just two months, Mayweather was released from jail. According to ESPN, Mayweather's crack team of lawyers successfully contended that the "jail food and water didn't meet Mayweather's dietary needs, and lack of exercise space in a cramped cell of fewer than 98 square feet threatened his health and fitness."

The mystery of Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick

There have been countless conspiracy theories about Ted Kennedy's car accident on July 18, 1969. But, even with the limited information publicly available (via History), many believe that Kennedy was fortunate to receive such minimal punishment for his involvement in the accident and the ensuing death of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick Island.

According to Kennedy's account (via ABC News), he was driving Kopechne from a cottage to the ferry when his vehicle careened off a bridge into a pond. In his public address, Kennedy claimed that he "made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into the strong and murky current." Ultimately, he was unsuccessful. Kennedy then alleged that he returned to the cottage to get help in his rescue mission. Those efforts, too, were unsuccessful. Kennedy then, inexplicably, returned to his hotel room without reporting the accident.

The following morning, Kennedy called his lawyer and then the police. By that time, the dead body of Kopechne had already been pulled out of the water. One week later, Kennedy "pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily injury." An inquest by Judge James Boyle found that Kennedy lied in his testimony and his driving was "negligent and, possibly, reckless," but no additional charges were laid on the famous politician. With no sobriety tests administered the night of the accident, Kennedy's claims of being sober were taken at face value, and his two-month jail sentence was suspended.

They will never take Mel Gibson's freedom

When Mel Gibson was arrested in 2006 for speeding and suspicion of driving under the influence, as reported by TMZ, it was already huge news, but the leaked report of his anti-Semitic tirade and threats made to the arresting officer made it even more scandalous.

During the arrest, Gibson, who blew over the legal limit for blood alcohol content and who allegedly had an open bottle of tequila in his car, reportedly became confrontational, hurling racist insults at the officer. At one point, Gibson allegedly tried to flee from officers as they attempted to put him in the patrol vehicle. For his actions, the actor received probation, a fine, and a 90-day restricted license, and he was forced to enter a rehabilitation program after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge (via The New York Times).

Deputy District Attorney Gina Satriano said that the sentence was fair and appropriate, stating, "This is what we do in normal DUI cases." The question, however, is whether this was, in fact, a "normal DUI" case. After all, aside from spewing hate speech, uttering threats, and resisting arrest, Gibson was a repeat offender. The actor had previously been arrested for drunk driving in Toronto, Canada, while filming 1984's Mrs. Soffel.

Matthew Broderick leaves a scar on Ireland

In 1987, celebrities Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey were vacationing in Ireland when the car Broderick was driving smashed in to an oncoming vehicle, as reported by the Associated Press. Though it was never determined what exactly happened, Broderick's vehicle was allegedly traveling in the wrong lane when the accident occurred. The head-on collision killed the two occupants of the other vehicle, Anna Gallagher and her mother, Margaret Doherty. Grey suffered only minor injuries and Broderick a fractured leg.

Initially facing a sentence of up to five years in jail on charges of careless driving causing death, Broderick pleaded guilty to lesser charges of careless driving. After the accident, Broderick said, according to the New York Post, "I don't remember the day. I don't remember even getting up in the morning. I don't remember making my bed. What I first remember is waking up in the hospital, with a very strange feeling going on in my leg."

Aside from Broderick allegedly driving in the wrong lane, there was reportedly no incriminating evidence found at the scene, no alcohol, and no skid marks. The prosecution had little to build a case around. For the careless driving charge, Broderick was fined $175, which the family called a "travesty of justice."

Hard time for Khloe Kardashian

In March of 2007, Khloé Kardashian was arrested for driving under the influence (via People). As part of her sentence, she was given three years of probation. She was also required to take an alcohol education class and complete roadside cleanup duty. For whatever reason, Kardashian never followed through on the terms of her probation and was sentenced to up to 30 days in jail for the breach.

At the time, a representative for Kardashian told People that "Khloe is ready and willing to serve out her sentence, no matter how long and where, and have this resolved." She showed up to serve her month-long jail term in July 2008. According to Kardashian, she was asked to watch an instructional video on inmate policy and was then placed in solitary confinement. Less than three hours later, she was released due to overcrowding.

But there may be more to the story. If Kardashian is to be believed, her jail time was reduced because of her maniacal fans. During an interview with Ryan Seacrest (via People), Kardashian said that she was released because of a bomb threat. Apparently, the warden spoke to her directly and said, "You're the one causing all the problems here. … There are all these bomb threats, and we think they're because of you."

Nicole Richie goes the wrong way

In 2006, police responded to reports of a black Mercedes SUV driving the wrong way on a California highway, as reported by People. By the time they located the vehicle, it was stopped in the carpool lane, this time, facing the right direction. In the vehicle, police found Nicole Richie, who was reportedly under the influence and who admitted to smoking marijuana and taking Vicodin (via TMZ). She was arrested, and, after pleading guilty to the charges, she was sentenced to four days in jail. In addition, she was given three years of probation and required to take a rehabilitation program for "two-time offenders."

The first time Richie was caught driving illegally was back in 2003, before she had even become a major star. As Entertainment Weekly reported, she was arrested and charged for driving with a suspended license and possession of heroin. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for the license and got probation, while she pleaded guilty to a felony charge for the drug possession and received a "deferred entry of judgement."

Fast-forward to 2007, and Richie reported to serve her four-day jail term for her crimes. Approximately 82 minutes after she entered the jail for driving in the wrong direction on a highway while under the influence of drugs, Richie was released.

On the run with Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson kicked open the door of a cab from the inside and fled from police through the streets of London. Now, that may sound like the plot of a movie (actually it was recreated for Harrelson's film Lost in London), but it's also a true story.

In 2002, Harrelson was arrested for the aforementioned behavior, as noted by the Daily Mail. According to the actor, after a night at a London nightclub, he hailed a taxi. Shortly into the ride, however, Harrelson wanted out. He began kicking the door, busting it open and damaging it in the process.

He then jumped out and into another cab while being followed by the damaged vehicle. Police were called and joined in on the chase (via The Guardian). When the cab driving Harrelson pulled over for police, the actor fled on foot. Eventually he was caught and arrested. But his actions didn't have much consequence. Harrelson only had to pay damages for the cab.

Incredibly, this wasn't the first time Harrelson did something like this. In 1982, he was arrested for "disturbing the peace" for drunkenly dancing in the middle of the streets of Columbus, Ohio. According to reports, when officers put him in a police van and drove off, Harrelson broke out and ran away. When police caught him, Harrelson punched one of them. Facing charges of assault and resisting arrest, the actor escaped with only $390 fine.

Even Robert Blake says he's blessed

Nearly one year after Bonny Lee Bakley was shot and killed, her husband, celebrity and actor Robert Blake, was arrested for the crime, as reported by CNN. Blake was charged with murder as well as "conspiracy, solicitation of murder, and lying in wait" (via ABC News). During the trial, the prosecution revealed that Blake had approached two former stunt doubles and attempted to recruit them as hit men. He faced a maximum sentence of the death penalty for his crimes.

Yet, despite the evidence against him, Blake's defense team worked wonders. They effectively portrayed the stuntmen as untrustworthy drug users and placed great emphasis on Blake not having come into contact with the murder weapon.

Four years after Bakley's death, Blake was acquitted on all charges except for one, which was dropped because of a deadlocked jury. That wasn't the end of it for Blake though. Eight months later, he was ordered to pay $30 million to the victim's family after being found guilty by jurors in a civil case. Still, even though the stiff damages bankrupted Blake, he was fortunate to have escaped the death penalty.

"If you live to be a million," Blake said after being acquitted of the criminal charges, "you will never ever in your life meet anyone more blessed than me."