When it comes to the law, there’s no shortage of celebrities with a history of playing it fast and loose. They may feel like the same rules that apply to us mere mortals don’t necessarily apply to them. It could be that they expect their celebrity status to get them off with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Perhaps those same emotions they’re so good at controlling for stage and screen get the better of them when the limelight’s not shining. Or maybe it just demonstrates that celebrities are human, prone to scrapes with justice just like the rest of us.
Of course, human or not, that doesn’t mean the media will treat them with the same disinterest and indifference as the next guy. Quite the contrary. When stars commit crimes, the news cycle is utterly relentless in its coverage, counting on viewers who want the guarded personal lives of celebrities demystified. Celebrities are used to riding the gravy train, so you can always count on the public to slow down and watch the trainwreck. While this list is by no means exhaustive, here are 15 celebrities who found themselves operating on the wrong side of the law at one time or another (some more than once).
15 Nick Nolte
On September 11th, 2002, Nolte was arrested in Malibu after he fell asleep behind the wheel of his car and veered into opposing traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway. It was later found that he was driving while under the influence of a party drug called GHB, whose effects often resemble those of alcohol. Nolte later plead no contest to the misdemeanor charge, served three years of probation and spent time in rehabilitation. Many of us remember the famous Polaroid that a Malibu police officer snapped of a disheveled, wild-haired Nolte the night he was arrested. However, despite popular belief, that was not the official mugshot, which was never released to the public. Nolte claims he was headed to an AA meeting at a church that night, but for reasons unknown changed his mind when he arrived and decided to go back home. Too bad. That meeting might have been the best thing he could have done for himself.
14 Winona Ryder
In December of 2001, Ryder was caught trying to shoplift $5,000 worth of clothes, hair products and a handbag from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. Clerks had caught her ripping off tags and stuffing the clothes into a shopping bag she was carrying. While she beat a burglary charge, she was convicted of vandalism and grand theft, which ultimately lead to $3,700 in fines, 480 hours of community service, and restitution to Saks. During the arrest, she was also found carrying painkillers without a prescription, but denied being under the influence. While she was not charged with any drug-related crimes, she was ordered to attend drug counseling. Following a five-year hiatus, Ryder returned to acting in 2006, appearing in Richard Linklater’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly. Many fans were shocked as to why a wealthy celebrity would have to steal clothes. However, those who later saw the prices at Saks quickly found their confusion alleviated.
13 Michael Vick
In April of 2007, Vick’s cousin, Davon Boddie, was arrested on drug charges and provided Vick’s home as his primary address. Upon searching the residence, authorities discovered evidence of dogfighting, including 54 malnourished dogs (primarily pit bulls), a blood-soaked fighting arena, training equipment, and various documentation describing the nature of the enterprise. On July 17th, Vick and three cohorts were indicted on federal charges of funding an illegal gambling operation and violating interstate commerce laws by transporting fighting dogs across state lines. The State of Virginia also brought charges of illegal dogfighting and cruelty to animals, where it came to light that Vick was at least aware of, if not complicit in, the hanging, drowning and electrocution of dogs who had underperformed in the ring. At this point, dog lovers everywhere who had never even considered the death penalty for serial killers were suddenly calling for its use on Vick. Instead, he was sentenced to 23 months in the federal doghouse, although he barked his way out in just 18.
12 Chris Brown
Brown’s legal woes began on February 8th, 2009 when he beat up his then-girlfriend Rihanna, causing her facial injuries that required hospital treatment. He later plead guilty to one count of felony assault. But Brown was just getting started. On June 14th, 2012, he was involved in a fight with Drake at a New York City nightclub over Rihanna. On January 27th, 2013, he attacked singer Frank Ocean outside a West Hollywood recording studio over a parking spot. On October 27th, 2013, he was arrested for felony assault (yes, again) for punching a man outside a Washington DC hotel. On November 10th, 2013, he was sentenced to 90 days of anger management for throwing a rock through the window of his mother’s car. On June 2nd, 2016, he was accused of punching a woman in the face for trying to snap his picture after a performance. And on August 30th, 2016, he was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon after a day-long stand-off with police outside his Tarzana home. Further instances abound, but this is an article, not a novel.
11 Christian Slater
Unfortunately, Winona’s not the only Heathers cast member to have run-ins with the law. On December 29th, 1989, Slater was arrested for drunk driving after leading police on an early morning car chase that ended when he wrapped his Saab around a tree. His blood-alcohol limit was three times the legal California limit and the stunt netted him 10 days in jail. In 1994, he was arrested at JFK Airport for trying to board a commercial flight with an unloaded 9mm handgun. Then, in August of 1997, while under the influence of cocaine and heroin, he was arrested yet again for beating up his girlfriend, fashion editor Michelle Jonas, and a man who was trying to help her. When police arrived, he resisted arrest and kicked officer Julio Flores down a flight of stairs. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, but only served 59. As a star on the top of the “unwanted touching tree,” he was also charged with third degree sexual abuse in May of 2005 for inappropriately grabbing a woman on the street.
10 Lindsay Lohan
Li-Lo’s collection of mugshots is beginning to look like its own yearbook album. Between 2007 and 2012, she racked up more than a dozen infractions. The lowlights: On May 26th, 2007, she’s charged with drunk driving and possession of cocaine after crashing her car in Beverly Hills. The lesson didn’t stick, because she gets arrested for the exact same charges again two months later (as well as driving with a suspended license). She’s sentenced to one day in jail, but is released after serving a staggering 84 minutes. On May 20th, 2010, a bench warrant is issued when she skips a court date to attend the Cannes Film Fest, forcing her to chalk up 100K in bail. Subsequent fines and jail time rack up as she continues to violate the terms of her probation. On December 12th, 2010, a Betty Ford Clinic staff member accuses her of assault, although the charges are subsequently dropped. On February 9th, 2011, she’s taken into custody for trying to swipe a $2,500 necklace from a Venice jewelry store. And on November 29th, 2012, she’s nabbed for punching a woman in the face outside a Manhattan night club. All this lends credence to the theory that she got miscast in Mean Girls.
9 Justin Bieber
The Canadian pop star seems to be taking a few cues from the Chris Brown/Lindsay Lohan playbook. One, two or even three times in cuffs just isn’t enough to solidify your street cred. On December 30th, 2013, the Biebs and his entourage assaulted a limo driver who had the unfortunate task of chauffeuring them around. Barely two weeks later, he plead no contest to misdemeanor vandalism of a neighbor’s home and was ordered to pay nearly $81,000 in damages. Nine days after that, he was arrested in Miami Beach for illegal street racing and resisting arrest after unleashing a torrent of profanities at local police officers. Then, on August 29th, 2014, he was nabbed for assault and dangerous driving after his ATV collided with a minivan that, according to his lawyers, was being driven by a member of the paparazzi. While stars deserve some R&R too, it’s still boggling how many turn to violence simply because their picture was taken without their permission. Hello, you are famous!
8 Jay Z
Beyoncé’s better half may not be that much better after all. In October of 2001, music impresario, Roc Nation mogul and Obama BFF Jay Z, turned himself in to authorities for a stabbing incident that happened outside a listening party at the Kit Kat Club on December 2, 1999. He was originally charged with felony assault and faced up to 15 years in prison for sticking a blade into record producer Lance “Un” Rivera over what some speculate was a disagreement about female rapper Charli Baltimore. Ultimately, the mogul plead the charge down to third degree assault and was sentenced to a paltry three years of probation. Rumors have also swirled for years that Jay Z was involved in orchestrating the murder of fellow rapper Big L, although no proof has ever been proffered and most consider it mere tabloid fodder. Either way, none of this seems to have hurt him, as Forbes estimates his 2016 net worth to be about $610 million.
7 Will Smith
Philadelphia native Smith found fame in the 1980s as one half of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. But a poor decision in 1989 could have closed the gates to Bel Air permanently. According to police, Smith got into a verbal altercation with promoter William Hendricks – just days after his first Grammy win no less – and ordered his bodyguard to attack Hendricks. The assault left Hendricks with a fractured left eye orbit that required hospitalization, and Smith was subsequently charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and criminal conspiracy. Smith spent a night in jail at the West Philly police station as a result, with one witness claiming that the other inmates were bothering him all night long for autographs. Fortunately for Smith, the charges were later dropped, and he denies any wrongdoing to this day. He later starred on screen as Muhammad Ali, where his fighting talents were better suited.
6 Wesley Snipes
White collar crime might not sound as exciting as good old-fashioned violence, but ask Wesley Snipes about getting caught doing it: it sucks just as much. In 2006, the Blade star was overseas in Namibia filming his new movie Gallow Walker when he was forced to return to Ocala, Florida to answer charges that he fraudulently claimed refunds of almost $12 million for both 1996 and 1997 taxes that he had already paid. He was also accused of failing to file any tax returns between 1999 and 2004, a period during which he made approximately $40 million. He eventually posted $1 million bond and was permitted to return to Namibia to finish his film. He was later found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal tax returns, went behind bars at McKean Federal Correctional Institution on December 9th, 2010, and served about 2.5 years of his three-year prison sentence. He was released on April 2nd, 2013, and as far as we know, has faithfully paid his taxes ever since.
5 Martha Stewart
First, a little backstory. A biopharmaceutical company called ImClone was experimenting with a new cancer drug called Erbitux back in 2001. It had submitted the drug for FDA approval and got denied. You’re thinking, yeah, so, what does this have to do with Martha Stewart? Just hold on to your custom boutique throw pillows, we’re getting to it. An ImClone co-founder was arrested for advising family and friends to sell the stock before the FDA announcement was made, knowing it would plummet the value. One of those friends was Stewart (Aha, now you’re getting it!). She sold some $200,000 worth of the doomed ImClone stock, saving herself from $45,000 in losses. This is called “insider trading” and it’s illegal. She was arrested in June of 2003 and later found guilty of securities fraud and lying to federal investigators. The 62-year-old home décor magnate was sentenced to five months of hard time, five months of house arrest, and two years of probation. While she had to step down as CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, word is she still taught her fellow inmates how to crochet a mean doily.
4 The Cast of Diff’rent Strokes
Fans of the early 80s sit-com seemed to get pelted with a barrage of bad news over the years as one cast member after another was arrested for various crimes. In 1987, Todd Bridges received a suspended sentence after pleading no contest to making a bomb threat. In 1988, he was tried and acquitted for attempted murder after allegedly shooting drug dealer Kenneth Clay eight times inside a crack house. Then in May of 1990, he was arrested again for cocaine trafficking in North Hollywood. Co-star Dana Plato also had multiple arrests, first for forging a drug prescription in 1982 (netting her 30 days in jail) and then for robbing a Las Vegas video store in 1991 with a pellet gun (she skated by with five years of probation). Even Gary Coleman was taken into custody in 2010 when, during a civil disturbance involving his wife, authorities learned that he had an outstanding warrant stemming from a prior incident. His response when told of the warrant? “Whatchu talkin’ bout, Willis?!” (Okay, that was bad).
3 Mark Wahlberg
On April 8th, 1988 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Wahlberg violently attacked local Vietnamese resident Thanh Lam as Lam walked to his car with some beer he had just bought. According to reports, Wahlberg spewed racial epithets as he smashed Lam over the head with a five-foot-long wooden stick, leaving him unconscious. While evading police, he approached another Vietnamese man, Hoa Trinh, and punched him in the eye. Wahlberg initially believed that he had blinded Trinh, but it was later revealed that Trinh had already lost that eye in the Vietnam War. Wahlberg was initially charged with attempted murder, but later plead guilty to the lesser charge of criminal contempt. He was given a two-year sentence, but only served 45 days at Boston’s Deer Island House of Correction. Many believe that this stint in the brig incentivized him to turn his life around. And thank goodness it did, or we may have been forever deprived of the exquisite melodies of that super group we all came to know and love – The Funky Bunch.
2 Robert Blake
It seems almost like the plot of a Hollywood movie that Blake himself might have starred in. On May 4th, 2001, the Baretta star went to dinner with his wife, Bonnie Bakley, at Vitello’s in Studio City. Witnesses described their appearance as “unhappy.” After the meal, she waited in the car on a side street while he went back to retrieve a gun he had left inside (later determined by police not to be the murder weapon). Bakley was shot to death in the car while he was gone. On April 18th, 2002, Blake was arrested and charged with her murder, while his longtime bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was arrested for conspiracy. Two former stuntmen came forward with stories that Blake tried to hire them to kill Bakley, and gun residue was found on Blake’s hands shortly after the shooting. However, the defense team was able to poke enough holes in the prosecution’s case to create reasonable doubt, with jurors later describing the evidence against Blake as “flimsy.” Although he was ultimately found not guilty, he later was forced to pay a $2 million civil settlement to Bakley’s children. Ah, karma, the real killer.
1 OJ Simpson
Perhaps one of the largest and saddest falls from grace is that of Mr. Simpson – once a heralded football star, sports commentator and film actor. On June 12th, 1994, the bodies of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman, were found brutally slain outside her Brentwood home. Five days later, the LAPD requested that Simpson turn himself in on first degree murder charges; instead, Simpson fled in a white Bronco owned by his friend Al Cowlings and lead police on a long freeway chase that was beamed across the world via helicopter news feeds. The trial lasted from January 24th to October 3rd, 1995, eventually resulting in a not guilty verdict and Simpson’s freedom. However, like Blake, Simpson was later ordered to pay a multi-million civil judgment to Nicole’s and Ron’s families. Then, on September 13th, 2007, he was arrested again in an unrelated case and ultimately found guilty of robbery, burglary and kidnapping. He is currently serving a 33-year sentence in Nevada and will be eligible for parole on October 2nd, 2017, where he’ll likely have several reality show offers awaiting him if released.