Handicapping the Phelps Fiasco

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott is apparently out to get champion swimmer Michael Phelps for smoking pot. After Phelps’s admissions last week, Sheriff Lott arrested eight people as part of his “investigation” into the matter. Now word is coming out about some of the details of those arrests:

“He’s sitting there on Saturday, and 12 cops kick in the door with guns drawn, search the house, and find 5, maybe 6 grams of pot,” Harpootlian said about his client, who was arrested in the first raid at the Wells Point Drive home near Ballentine.

“They never asked him, ‘Who sold you the pot?’” Harpootlian continued. “They were asking, ‘Were you at the party with Michael Phelps? Did you see him using marijuana?’ It was all about Michael Phelps.”

Clearly, Sheriff Lott has visions of fame—he’s probably an envious admirer of self-proclaimed “worlds toughtest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio—so he’s hunting for a nice Olympic-quality pelt for his trophy room.

We’ve seen variations on this theme before—e.g. the Winona Ryder shoplifting trial—so I think we all have a pretty good idea of what could happen next. That’s why, in the style of Adam Savage on Mythbusters before the experiment, I’m now going to try to estimate the odds on various possible results:

  • 1%: Sheriff Lott can’t put together a case against Phelps.
  • 0.9%: Someone with political power at the state or county level makes Sheriff Lott back off because he’s an embarassment.
  • 0.1%: Sheriff Lott has a moment of clarity and stops on his own.
  • 6%: Sheriff Lott puts together a case, but the DA isn’t interested, so it goes nowhere.
  • The DA is as publicity crazed as Sheriff Lott,
  • but simple possession is only a misdemeanor in South Carolina, meaning there’s no extradition, so Phelps
  • 13%: simply stays away from South Carolina.
  • 44%: voluntarily returns to face “justice” because it’s better for his career.
  • 35%: Phelps is indicted on trumped-up felony charges based on statements from other arrested people trying to make a deal, forcing him to return to Richland County.
  • That’s a 79% chance that Phelps is arrested. If that’s what happens, then that 79% breaks down further according to the result of the legal process:

    • 1%: The publicity dies down, and the charges are quietly dropped.
    • Phelps pleads to possesion and
    • 13%: pays a fine and gets probation just like every other first offender.
    • 6%: the DA’s deal requires Phelps to serve some time in jail, and then Sheriff Lott and the DA announce at the press conference that “celebrities are not entitled to special treatment,” despite the fact that every other first offender just pays a fine and gets probation.
  • The DA won’t agree to a plea, so the case goes to trial with the result that
    • 3%: a star-struck jury acquits Phelps of all charges.
    • 15%: a non-star-struck jury acquits Phelps of all charges.
    • Phelps is found guilty of
    • possession, and
    • 27%: the judge gives him a fine and probation just like every other first offender.
    • 8%: the judge gives him jail time to prove that celebrities don’t get special treatment, and then Sheriff Lott and the DA announce at the press conference that “celebrities are not entitled to special treatment,” despite the fact that every other first offender just gets a fine and probation.
  • a felony drug crime, and
    • 0.5%: the judge gives him a slap on the wrist because he’s a celebrity.
    • 5%: the judge gives him a little jail time, just like everybody else gets.
    • 0.5%: the judge throws the book at him to prove that celebrities don’t get special treatment, and then Sheriff Lott and the DA announce at the press conference that “celebrities are not entitled to special treatment,” despite the fact that everybody else just gets a little jail time.

    So, how’d I do? Any suggestions for adjustments? Possible results I missed?

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