The arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, on charges that he sexually assaulted a chambermaid in his hotel room on West 44th Street in Manhattan, will throw an international spotlight on the criminal justice system in New York.
Strauss-Kahn is a player on the world stage. As head of the I.M.F. he has been at the forefront of the financial bailouts for Greece, Portugal, and Ireland. He was widely expected to step down from his I.M.F. post this summer to seek the Socialist party nomination for the president of France in elections to be held in 2012. He is so well known that newspaper headlines in the foreign press simply refer to him as DSK. The case is a magnet for press attention: a world figure, salacious details, and claims that political intrigue is behind events leading to the arrest.
In the circumstances, the American legal system, and the New York City system in particular, will be put under an intense international microscope. Some recent high profile cases in New York which have garnered international attention have involved financial scandals whose courtroom presentations were affected by a maze of sometimes abstruse market and banking data. The Strauss-Kahn case, however, has a simple story line--what allegedly occurred in a hotel room--which everyone can follow and about which everyone will have an opinion.
I was interviewed for background on the American legal system by France 24, an internet and television enterprise based on the CNN model. Two matters immediately were raised: the police escorting a handcuffed Strauss-Kahn before the waiting press photographers--the "Perp Walk"-- and the bail system. From the European perspective the Walk seemed intentionally designed to humiliate the accused and to plant "Guilty" in the minds of members of the public who may end up on the jury months later. The view was expressed that Strauss-Kahn had been singled out for this treatment but I assured the interviewer, as any reader of the tabloid press knows, that this sort of display of the accused in high profile cases is common.
There has been litigation over perp walks. In Lauro v. Childs, 219 F.3d 202 (2nd Cir. 2000), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that a "staged perp walk"--one in which the accused is displayed solely for the benefit of the press and which serves no legitimate law enforcement purpose--violates an individual's Fourth Amendment right to be free of unlawful seizures. But in Caldarola v. County of Westchester, 343 F.Fd 570 (2nd Cir. 2003), the court held that the perp walk of a former corrections officer--a videotape of the walk was distributed to the press--served the legitimate governmental purposes of informing the public of efforts to root out wrongdoing by public employees, enhancing the transparency of the criminal justice system, and deterring others from wrongdoing.
There is also foreign disbelief that at his arraignment Strauss-Kahn was denied release on bail. I, too, was surprised that he was not released on a high bail with serious restrictions on his movements--surrender of his passport, electronic monitoring, and so forth. But bail conditions do change as cases progress through the system: other judges will look at the matter, and appellate review of bail is available.
So far, therefore, in two ways the New York criminal justice system has come up short in foreign eyes : the perp walk and the flat denial of bail. This sort of close scrutiny by those not familiar with the system nor beholden to it will continue, as it should in a free society.