Commentary Magazine


See What I Mean About the Perp Walk?

I hate to be an old I-told-you-so, but….

Shortly after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with rape and assorted other major crimes, he was subjected to a perp walk, led into court in handcuffs before hundreds of photographers. The pictures appeared in just about every newspaper and TV news show on the planet.

Now it seems, the case has fallen apart, with the alleged victim’s testimony severely compromised. The judge, while not dismissing the charges, has released Strauss-Kahn on his own recognizance–not exactly normal in a rape case. One has the sense the charges will be dropped before long.

Of course, Strauss-Kahn has lost his job as head of the International Monetary Fund, and his once leading candidate status to run against President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s French elections is also gone. And those pictures will never go away.

There are two things, at the very least, to take away from this debacle. One, certainly, is the perp walk should be outlawed, as it is in virtually every democratic country in the world. Anglo-American law is based on the presumption of innocence, but the perp walk is based on the presumption of guilt. It only came about because the office of district attorney in this country (and, in most states, the office of attorney general as well) is fundamentally a political office, and so DAs take politics (and their own political advantage) far too much into account. That too is uniquely American.

The second thing is because DA’s are politicians first and seekers of justice second, anyone who is famous is especially vulnerable. Does anyone think  had Martha Stewart been simply a very rich woman from the suburbs of New York, she would have been criminally charged with lying to a federal official about an insider trading scandal that resulted in no charges of insider trading? But the opportunity to be a major player in a case guaranteed to get their names on the front pages, especially if the case is rich with the schadenfreude of bringing low the mighty, is too much for most DAs to resist.

This is not America at its best.

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