Actually, there's nothing to free her from. In reality, she's out on bail, a paltry $20,000, probably paid with a Platinum American Express card to get the bonus points redeemable at Saks. The prosecutor who pursued a full-blown trial to get a felony conviction won't ask for jail time, so where's the deterrent in that? It is likely that Ryder's felony conviction will be knocked down to a misdemeanor a while after they've struck the courtroom set.
Rental of her previous movies is likely to increase; she's now really famous, and Hollywood hasn't had a certified bad girl since J-Lo was dating Puffy. In addition to training for her shoplifting role, she's now got courtroom experience, and won't have to wear that outré orange jumpsuit.
Still, the shoplifting prosecution of Winona Ryder raises issues both serious and cynical.
Statistics, valiantly compiled by the Woodsteins of television's "Celebrity Justice," argue that the actress might have been subject to the courtroom spectacle rather than a plea bargain deal simply because she's a celebrity. On the other hand, there is that pesky sealed record said to reveal past bad acts. The ratings factor cannot be ignored: L.A. prosecutors like the cameras so much that some of them are eligible for Actors Equity cards.
Then there's Ryder's attorney, the always obnoxious Mark Geragos. Perhaps chosen because he can contrive a conspiracy theory from being served the wrong salad dressing at Spago, his practice of law as a contact sport is enough to spite any prosecutor into exchanging her Manolos for sensible courtroom shoes.
The jury selection of Peter Guber, the movie executive who made several Ryder picture shows, astounded legal observers. It was a gutsy prosecutorial move, granted, but the prosecutor had so many shopping bags full of evidence she didn't even have to say, "If the Marc Jacobs cashmere top was picked, you must convict." Although there is no suggestion that Guber did anything other than faithfully fulfill his jury obligation, any attempt at jury nullification by any juror would have only focused more publicity on the case, second only to the midterm elections as it was.
According to political pollster turned Hollywood consultant and Last Angry Man in America Pat Caddell, Saks Fifth Avenue executives twice pleaded with prosecutors to drop the charges against Ryder. If true, that could strengthen the persecution v. prosecution argument. How the reputation of the once-tony, now merely expensive specialty store chain will emerge from the trial is anyone's guess, but those who don't wear $80 Donna Karan socks every day might ponder the real crime: selling them or shoplifting them.
Two very serious questions remain:
Would Winona have gotten away with it if she had used a proper Swiss Army knife instead of those unwieldly orange-handled scissors? Did any of the jurors ask for her autograph?
While justice may have been served, it was as expensive, in context, as the items taken. The same result could have occurred without a trial, but then the American people would have been deprived, violating a fundamental cultural law: the show must go on.November 7, 2002