Dominque Strauss-Kahn and the American Justice System
While it’s always dangerous to extrapolate too much from high profile cases to the system as a whole, the strange case of Dominque Strauss-Kahn practically invites it. Even before the bizarre developments of the last couple of days, the Europeans were questioning the way Americans carry out justice. It’s now moved to this side of the Pond.
Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft:
Dominique Strauss-Kahn will walk free and be hailed in France as a victim of an unfair American justice system that relies on outrageous perp walks and the sensationalized saturation of public opinion by American media, which views every case through guilt-colored lenses. Every defense attorney in the country will now bring up the DSK debacle in voir dire and closing when trying a he-said/she-said sex assault case. The accuser will return to Guinea to avoid criminal charges of lying to the grand jury and obstructing justice. And Cyrus Vance and his sex crimes unit will never live this one down.
Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings:
In general, I agree that prosecutors should refuse to go to court with a criminal case if the case hinges on testimony from a person who cannot be trusted. This is, in general, a sound civil libertarian stance. However, one need only read Radley Balko’s blog, or the ACLU’s blog, or any number of reports on death penalty cases with shaky evidence, to recognize that this standard of credibility should not only be applied to victims of alleged sexual assaults. It should also be applied to informants (especially in death penalty cases), cops who can’t keep their stories straight, and “expert” witnessesoffering testimony that is dubious at best.
So, by all means, if (for the sake of argument) DSK’s accuser is a person who cannot be trusted, and no other substantial evidence can be mustered to corroborate her allegation, drop the case. Better to let a hundred guilty people go free than send one innocent to prison. However, let’s be just as scrupulous in examining the credibility of other prosecution witnesses as well. Credibility considerations shouldn’t be exclusively for accusers in rape cases.
dmaz at emptywheel:
Game. Set. Match. There is so, so, much more of course (really, read the whole sordid set of facts) that absolutely guts any possibility of proceeding with the woman as a criminal victim against DSK but, seriously, that part of the equation is just done and over.
The criminal charges will be dismissed, the only question is why they have not been already. My guess is twofold, first, Cy Vance and the Manhattan DA’s Office are trying to maximize whatever insulation from liability they can and, second, they are trying to decide how to proceed as to the woman who was formerly the “victim”. By this I mean ascertaining whether she will be detained and deported, arrested and prosecuted, or rolled to be a state witness on substantial crimes involving the current DSK case and/or the drug gang she appears to be involved with. But those are pretty much the options at this point.
Between the DA’s Office of Cy Vance and the battery of attorneys that this supposed minimum wage maid had in tow, there is some of the oddest and most questionable lawyering imaginable afoot.
Yours truly at New Atlanticist:
While public figures, especially wealthy and powerful ones like Strauss-Kahn, have all manner of advantages in the American legal system, they also have the distinct disadvantage of the spotlight, where gossip and rumor passes for news and a rush to judgment occurs, often before formal charges have been filed. Ray Donovan’s famous question, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” remains valid.
Now, in this case, the former reputation was quite likely undeserved. Strauss-Kahn is almost certainly a world class cad even if it’s unlikely he’s a rapist. Then again, had the chambermaid simply gone to the tabloids and claimed to have had consensual sex with the IMF director, it wouldn’t have been Topic A for the news media for days on end.
I share some of the concerns raised in Europe, particularly in France, about the way Strauss-Kahn was treated by the American system. Aside from the media circus, which is largely outside the control of the authorities, such features as the “perp walk,” where arrests are made publicly and the accused paraded in front of cameras for maximum embarrassment and prejudicial effect on the potential jury pool is especially cringe-worthy. Additionally, incarcerating those merely accused of crimes at Rykers Island and other ghastly facilities is problematic. But this case showed, too, the positive side of American justice. It was, after all, the prosecutors themselves who divulged the evidence that undermined their own case and swiftly took it to a judge to minimize the harm done to the man in custody.
Expect more questioning and hand-wringing over the coming week or so.