Paris Hilton is really going to jail?

As you may have heard, Paris Hilton is headed to jail. Upon facing 45 days in a state run correctional facility, Hilton filed an appeal and even begun a petition on the social networking website Myspace.com to ask Governor Schwarzenegger to pardon her offenses and keep her out of jail. However, her pleas went unanswered - sort of. Her sentence was reduced to a mere 23 days due to overcrowding but yes she is headed for prison.

Despite Hilton's notoriety as a sex tape heiress and bit-part-actress-turned-pop-star, a look into her history of arrests, pleas, and court dates offers insights into the American legal system and a harsh reminder that no one, not even Hollywood celebutantes, are above the law.

A little bit of Paris' DUI Backstory

On September 27, 2006 Hilton was charged with driving under the influence in California. Although she admitted that she had been speeding when she was pulled over, that was not the end of the matter. Based on the observations of the officer who noted her erratic driving, Hilton was required to perform field sobriety tests, in keeping with California DUI law. When the officer administered the blood alcohol test, Hilton's level of intoxication showed that her blood alcohol level was .08% -- the legal limit at which a person is considered guilty of driving under the influence.

Hilton pleaded no contest, or nolo contendre to the charges, meaning she neither denied nor affirmed her guilt. For the purposes of DUI law, a plea of nolo contendre functions as a guilty plea, giving the court the opportunity to proceed with sentencing, as opposed to trying the case. However, nolo contendre pleas are different from guilty pleas in that they do not require a defendant to speak out formally with regard to the charges against him.

In Hilton's case, the nolo contendre plea likely limited the scope of the inquiry into the nature of her intoxication. Nolo contendre pleas are especially useful to shield criminal information for high profile defendants who may not want the exact details of their cases known to the public.

After her no contest plea, Hilton was fined $1,500, placed on probation for three years, and required to attend a comprehensive alcohol education program. Although little is known about the exact circumstances of her arrest, the punishment meted out to Hilton was standard first time DUI fare.

The Miscalculations that got her jail time

But in May of this year Hilton found herself on trial once again, this time for violation of parole. Not only had she failed to enroll in the alcohol education program mandated by the judge in her initial DUI hearing, she had also been stopped twice and cited for driving with a suspended license, even after she had reportedly signed an agreement that stipulated she would not drive.

In DUI trials and related parole violations, repeat offenders are dealt with more harshly than their first time counterparts. It is not unusual for a judge to require jail time for someone who disregards the court's orders. Before her sentencing, Hilton said she had not understood the terms of her parole and was unaware that she was not supposed to be driving. But as the old saying goes, "ignorance of the law is no excuse" and Hilton was not granted unusual lenience, despite her ill formed understanding of the law governing her case.

With overwhelmingly clear evidence of her violations, Hilton will have a difficult time prevailing on appeal, a process most useful in criminal cases in which new evidence or witnesses come forward, requiring reconsideration of a case's outcome. Hilton's parole violations were of the open and shut variety and hers is a straightforward, simple traffic case. For Hilton, the only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not her online petition can persuade California's governor to intervene on her behalf.