05/21/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT
She had time, while prosecutors at L.A.'s Metropolitan Courthouse were making their closing statements, to peek into her compact and check her makeup. Wearing a pristine gray jacket, black pants and a girlish headband, Paris Hilton
then crossed herself and kissed her fingers for good luck. But none of it was enough to ward off what transpired: Speaking sternly, Judge Michael T. Sauer sentenced the 26-year-old heiress to 45 days in jail for violating her probation after repeatedly driving with a suspended license. Hilton looked stunned and her mouth dropped. As she began weeping into a tissue, her mother, Kathy, turned to the prosecutors and shouted, "You're pathetic!" And then, after a half-dozen sheriffs rushed over to keep her under control: "After we spent so much money!"
It was one of those rare moments in Hilton's young life when she is not getting exactly what she wants. Namely, freedom. Her sentence—coming after a DUI arrest in September that resulted in a suspended license, and subsequent infractions including driving without her headlights on (see box)—will almost certainly be enforced, legal experts say, even though her lawyers have already appealed. "Her chances of winning an appeal are little to none," says DUI attorney Lawrence Taylor. "The evidence was overwhelming that she repeatedly violated probation."
And though a friend has started a petition on Hilton's MySpace page urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pardon her, it turns out that the governor's office only considers pardons in felony convictions, after time served. Although the appeal process could delay her sentence, indications are that by June 5, Hilton will check into a humble cell at the Century Regional Detention Facility. "She will be very alone, which will be the hardest for her," says a family friend. "She's used to being in bars, not behind them."
So how did it come to this? Hilton claims in the June issue of Harper's Bazaar
that police stop her often just "to hit on me." If that's true, at least a few of them also took time to notice her suspended license. Hilton insisted in court that her publicist Elliot Mintz had told her she could drive as long as the trip was work-related. "I never would've been driving if my license was suspended," she said. "I'm followed all the time and would've been photographed—I follow the law." But the judge said there was a "smoking gun" in the case: a DMV notice Hilton signed when she was pulled over in January acknowledging that her license was suspended.
In the days since her hearing, she hasn't let a looming jail term keep her moping at home. On May 5, after telling reporters camped in her driveway that "I feel I was treated unfairly, and that the sentence is both cruel and unwarranted," she met her parents at the L.A. eatery Prego, then went shopping with her mother. On May 7, after attending a fund-raiser, she went with sister Nicky and friends to grab some pizza and watch a friend's band. Also in tow: Mintz, whom she had fired and rehired about 24 hours after her sentencing. "We had a wonderful evening," said Mintz afterward. "I support her completely in this time of obvious difficulty." Of course, with adversity comes publicity. And after all, a knack for making headlines has always been Hilton's real appeal.
For up-to-the-minute news, photos and more on Paris, go to PEOPLE.COM/PARIS_HILTON