I never understood how come celebrities, such as Charlie Sheen, are able to roam free while they're known for using illegal drugs. Can anyone explain this to me? I can provide many more examples if required.

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    I’m voting to close this question because it is about the political reasoning behind alleged non-prosecution of crime, not the law or legal process.
    – user4657
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 20:33
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    Wait what? Where do I post this question then? It's a question about law, is it not? Can you please recommend the alternative SE? @Nij Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 20:41
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    @Nij Disagreed. It is not obvious to me which crimes, by using which drugs, in which states are committed, and whether there is typically sufficient evidence to lay charges. I would love to see this all clarified.
    – Greendrake
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 21:01
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    @Nij The general point about the places where there is discretion in the criminal justice system is IMO on-topic and well worth making. Questions about what evidence there is against a particular person and why charges have or have not been brought seem likely to be speculative and so would be off-topic. I favor keeping this open, or reopening it if closed. Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 21:15
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    Of course, Charlie Sheen has been convicted of drug offences.
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 21:31

1 Answer 1


In the US, people are not put in jail because they are "known for" committing a crime. Several things must happen, and at each stage there are ways for the process to be halted.

  1. Law enforcement must gather evidence that a crime has been committed by a particular person. There ids no duty to investigate every possible crime, so this will depend on the policy of the particular LE organization, and what evidence any investigation finds. If no investigation is made, no evidence will be found.
  2. A prosecutor (state or Federal) must decide to bring charges. There is no duty for a prosecutor to bring charges in every case where evidence is brought forward by law enforcement. A prosecutor is supposed to devote the limited resources of his or her office where it seems likely to do the most public good. Cases which probably cannot be won should not be brought. Moreover, most prosecutors are reluctant to bring cases which seem likely to do them political harm.
  3. The Prosecutor must formally bring the defendant(s) before a court to hear and respond to the charges (arraignment). At this stage the judge can dismiss the charges, but that almost never happens.
  4. The prosecutor must establish that there is probable cause to bring a case to trial. This can be done via a grand jury proceeding resulting in an indictment, an "information", a probable cause hearing, or a preliminary hearing, depending on the jurisdiction and the type of crime. For minor crimes, the prosecutor's sworn statement may be enough.
  5. There must be a trial, before a judge or a jury. If the defendant is found guilty, s/he will be sentenced under the appropriate law, which may include jail or prison time.

There are various other stages to the process, but those are the major go/no-go steps in a US criminal proceeding.

So it is possible in any given case that law enforcement has not tried to find evidence, or has tried but failed, or that a prosecutor has chosen not to bring charges. As to why any of that might have happened, it depends on the particular situation and its circumstances. There are always costs of time, effort, and money to pursue any particular case. If cops are looking for evidence of a celebrity's drug use, they are not looking for evidence in an embezzlement or murder case. If an assistant prosecutor is tying such a case, s/he is not trying some other case. Officials have wide discretion in how to allocate resources in such matters.

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    As Dale M implies in a comment on the question, another reason for a known criminal being free is that the person has in fact been convicted, but is not (or no longer) required by the terms of the sentence to be imprisoned.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 21:39
  • Somewhere in the numbered steps there's something missing: Law Enforcement must determine a place&time of the crime, so it can be matched with a jurisdiction. This has become more relevant now that weed has been decriminalized in a number of states
    – MSalters
    Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 13:13
  • @MSalters That would be part of the investigation to be done in step 1. Usually law enforcement will not investigate events outside their jurisdiction, but will pass it to an appropriate organization, or drop the matter. Commented Aug 16, 2021 at 14:12

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