August 15

Justin Bieber is a lesson for all young people. This week he pleaded guilty in Miami to careless driving and resisting arrest. The original charges were driving under the influence of intoxicants (marijuana and Xanax), having an expired license and resisting arrest. The judge was stern with him. Not that it mattered any. Bieber wasn’t there.


Singer Justin Bieber performs at the Prudential Center in Newark in July 2013. (Evan Agostini/Invision via Associated Press)

I imagine his lawyer, Mark Shapiro, was duly contrite. The deal he had worked out went like this: Bieber would pay a $500 fine, considerably less than a bottle of champagne at a club, attend a 12-hour anger management course and donate $50,000 to an unnamed charity. Bieber also has charges pending in at least two other jurisdictions for the good fun he has been having. And last month, he pleaded no contest to a charge of egging a neighbor’s house in California.

In truth, the Miami incident – drag racing in a yellow Lamborghini — was not as serious as first reported. Bieber does have a valid driver’s license and while he might have been a mite doped up, his alcohol level was low. He was presumably not in the least way drunk, although what Xanax and pot does to you, I cannot say. I don’t think they concentrate the mind.

Whatever the case, Bieber showed the power of fame and fortune. It seems to me that resisting arrest — it can get you killed in certain jurisdictions — is a serious matter. It also seems to me that drag racing on city streets can not only get you killed, but someone else as well. Finally, the punishment in this case not only did not fit the crime, it was not even an inconvenience to Bieber. His out-of-pocket costs for that one night were far less than he often spends on other nights. Chartering an airplane, for instance, does not come cheap.

By now, Bieber has earned a well-founded reputation as a brat. I know, I know. He’s young and fame descended on him with disorienting suddenness. This is not quite the same as being orphaned, but it’s supposedly a trauma of sorts.

But one way to deal with the burdens of wealth and fame is to have limits imposed. Clearly, no one can do that – not even, it turns out, the court. It would have been a good lesson for all the Beliebers of the world to have seen Bieber in the courtroom and to witness him led away in cuffs. It would have been sweetly wonderful if no fine was imposed and no deal worked out involving a charitable donation. A bit of time in the clink would have been appropriate. After all, Bieber has more money in the bank than most of us but no more time in the day. Let the punishment fit the crime – but also the criminal.

But, no, Bieber in effect paid his way out of jail. “I hope that [Bieber] realizes that … others that are looking up to him as a role model,” Miami-Dade County Judge William Altfield said. How true, how true. Of course, as I mentioned, the “role model” was elsewhere. He did not need to talk. His money did that for him.

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post.