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Paris Hilton cocaine case poses challenges for prosecutors, legal expert says

August 30, 2010 | 11:36 am

Paris Hilton and Cy Waits mug shotsAs Paris Hilton faces arraignment on a cocaine-possession charge after being arrested in Las Vegas, a legal expert says the case might be harder to prove than it appears.

Prosecutors in such minor drug-possession cases face several hurdles, and even when they do get a conviction, typically the punishment is drug treatment, said Dmitry Gorin, a former L.A. County prosecutor and well-known defense attorney.

“First they are going to have prove it’s her purse and then she had custody of it,” Gorin said. “When it comes to celebrities, often assistants and entourage handle things like that, so it becomes harder to show they are the ones with the item.”

Media outlets in Las Vegas reported Monday morning that Hilton told police the purse was not hers.

A police lieutenant discovered the cocaine in a baggy after Hilton was escorted into the Wynn hotel after a traffic stop nearby. The lieutenant said he saw the drugs when Hilton asked for her purse to get a lip balm. 

Gorin said Hilton’s legal team may also challenge the cause for the search in the first place. Police said they pulled over the SUV that Hilton was in after smelling marijuana fumes.

He said that if her legal team can raise questions about whether the marijuana smell came from her SUV, they could get the evidence tossed out. Gorin said ultimately if prosecutors do succeed in convicting Hilton, the punishment would mostly likely involve drug diversion.

The defense lawyer says there are numerous arrests of this nature on the Vegas Strip (minus the celebrity) and most finish in some kind of diversion program unless the person has a lengthy prior record. Las Vegas police said they had enough evidence to arrest Hilton, but it will be up to prosecutors to file charges.

Attorneys for Hilton and her boyfriend, Cy Waits, have suggested that not all the facts in the case have been made public. Hilton’s attorney, David Chesnoff, released a statement urging people not to make a "rush to judgment."

-- Richard Winton

Photos: Paris Hilton and her boyfriend, Cy Waits. Credit: Las Vegas Police Department