A smiling Paris Hilton, who commanded as much attention behind bars as on the Hollywood party scene, regained her freedom on Tuesday.
Hotel heiress Paris Hilton, who commanded as much attention behind bars as on the Hollywood party scene, regained her freedom early Tuesday after serving three weeks in jail for violating probation in a drunken-driving case.
The incarceration of the 26-year-old multimillionaire, who lampooned her own persona as a clueless child of privilege on the reality TV show "The Simple Life," ignited a worldwide media frenzy and debate about celebrity justice.
The saga hit a crescendo when Hilton was placed briefly under house arrest after just three days in jail, sparking an uproar over what many saw as preferential treatment. Even so, a Los Angeles Times analysis found her sentence far exceeded those served by most inmates for similar offenses.
In the end, Hilton served 22 days in detention, counting her day-long home confinement. The original 45-day term set by the judge was effectively cut in half under a standard credit applied for good behavior.
Hilton emerged from the Century Regional Detention Facility in suburban Lynwood at about 12:15 a.m. with throngs of photographers and camera crews waiting for her.
Dressed casually in dark slacks and a short-sleeved top, Hilton made no statement but smiled broadly as she walked briskly down a paparazzi-lined path to a sports utility vehicle where she was embraced by her mother, Kathy.
The Hiltons left quickly, headed for a Hilton family home in the exclusive enclave of Bel-Air, with several vehicles full of photographers tailing them all the way.
Hilton was scheduled to give her first post-jail television interview Wednesday on CNN’s "Larry King Live" show, after ABC and NBC last week dropped competing offers to grant her a major broadcast network exclusive.
Whether fame worked for or against her, public fascination with the socialite who first gained notoriety in a homemade sex video that surfaced on the Internet never seemed to dim.
SHERIFF VS. PROSECUTOR
The case also led to a rare public showdown between two of Los Angeles’ top law enforcement officers — City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who prosecuted Hilton, and Sheriff Lee Baca, who oversees the county jail system and moved to "reassign" Hilton to house arrest.
The judge sided with the prosecutor in sending Hilton back to jail to finish her term. But Delgadillo soon found himself under fire for his own misconduct, including improper use of city resources and revelations that his wife had been the subject of a 9-year-old arrest warrant.
Hilton has spoken in interviews of being transformed by her experience, of wanting to put her celebrity to good use, and of feeling that God had given her a second chance.
Her jail time stemmed from her arrest last September on a charge of drunken driving. She pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of alcohol-related reckless driving in January and was sentenced to three years probation.
The following month she was caught driving on a suspended license, which Judge Michael Sauer ruled in May violated her probation. He rejected Hilton’s defense that she had been misinformed about the status of her license by her publicist.
Her lawyers vowed an appeal, and supporters launched a petition campaign seeking clemency from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Hilton surrendered the night of June 3 to begin her sentence.
Just hours earlier, the great-grandaughter of the Hilton Hotels founder had walked the red carpet at a Hollywood awards show where she was the butt of jokes on national television.
Days later, Baca released her to house arrest under electronic monitoring, citing unspecified medical problems that he later described as psychological. Hilton has since said she suffers from claustrophobia.
The judge overruled Baca the next day and ordered Hilton back to jail as she sobbed loudly, "Mom, Mom, It’s not right!"
Richard Levick, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations consultant, said he doubted Hilton’s livelihood as a professional "celebutante" would be hurt by her ordeal.
"In the upside-down world which is Hollywood, this only helps her," he said. "Paris is literally famous for being famous."
How seriously she is taken by the media in the future depends on whether she is willing to give up the celebrity party circuit for more meaningful pursuits, Levick said.
"The reason people find God or find rehabilitation centers is because they want forgiveness, and we’re willing to give it. But they can only sing that song once," he said.