The most decorated Olympian, EVER (with 22 gold medals), Michael Phelps got a DUI recently, and suffered a 6 months’ suspension from his professional job, at USA Swimming. He loses his monthly stipend. He will no longer be on the U.S. Olympic team for next year’s championships. I find that to be grossly unfair. The man is also going into a 6 week inpatient program. Let me tell you, as an attorney who has handled hundreds of DUI’s, I know that a 6 week program is nothing. It is a PR stunt. My point here, is that penalizing a man with losing his income, is an extreme and harsh measure. He still has to pay DUI fines ($2000), take a 3 month DMV class, and be on 3 years of informal misdemeanor probation. His punishment should be the same as anybody else’s. Period.
Sure, this is not his first problem with substance abuse. In 2009, he was caught photographed smoking out of a bong, and before that, in 2004, he picked up his first DUI in the state of Maryland. For the first DUI, he had to pay a $250 fine, and be on probation for 18 months, attend a MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and had to visit schools to tell children about he dangers of drinking and driving.
Nevertheless, as much as people complain that celebrities are given slaps on the wrist when they commit crimes (Lindsey Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Jerry Lee Lewis?), it is also unfair for the pendulum to swing in the other direction. Phelps does not deserve HARSHER punishment than Joe Six Pack. They should both be given the usual, typical punishment. It is not fair and sends the wrong message to use Phelps’ celebrity to “send a message.” No one will assume that just because Phelps gets a DUI, and he’s a gold medal winning Olympian that YOU should go out and drink and drive. Phelps’ own behavior, in any event, will punish him enough. He will lose popularity, endorsements, opportunities to make extra income on the speaking circuit. Those things come with celebrity and are to be expected.
For a second DUI, at least in Fresno County, where I worked for 6 + years, the typical punishment is 20 days of jail or sheriff’s work program, nearly $2,000 in fines, and an 18 month DMV program, along with three years of probation, among other terms. Alameda County is more lenient, but that’s the punishment. And that is what Phelps and Joe Six Pack should get, if they are found guilty or they make a plea bargain.