Smiling Paris leaves jail after 21 days inside

HOTEL heiress Paris Hilton, who commanded as much attention behind bars as on the Hollywood party scene, regained her freedom yesterday after serving three weeks in jail for violating probation in a drunk-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 offences.

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 behaviour.

Hilton emerged from the Century Regional Detention Facility in suburban Lynwood with throngs of photographers and camera crews waiting for her.

She 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.

Hilton was scheduled to give her first post-jail television interview later on CNN’s Larry King Live show, after ABC and NBC last week dropped competing offers to grant her a major broadcast network exclusive.

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 Mr Delgadillo soon found himself under fire for his own misconduct, including improper use of city resources.

Hilton has spoken in interviews of being transformed by her experience and of wanting to be taken more seriously.

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 defence 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. But Hilton surrendered the night of June 3 to begin her sentence.

Days later, Mr Baca released her to house arrest, citing unspecified medical problems.

The judge overruled Mr Baca the next day and ordered Hilton back to jail.

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