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Richard Day: Satire and Baltimore
Must be an awkward day for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. His case against former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn is reportedly collapsing and the most serious charges might be dropped. Prosecutors are likely hoping to save face by getting Kahn to plead guilty on some misdemeanor charge but Strauss-Kahn has proven himself a fighter.
I'm under no illusion that false rape accusations are common. I'm sure they're exceedingly rare. But the treatment of Strauss-Kahn by police, prosecutors and the media was inexcusable. He did himself no favors with a story that changed from "it never happened" to "it was consensual," but that's a pretty minor issue compared to what happened to him.
After Strauss-Kahn was arrested he was quickly sent to Riker's. Degrading pictures of him in a disheveled state were leaked to the press and anonymous cops were quoted complaining that Strauss-Kahn claimed all sorts of privilege and demanded special treatment. This created an unflattering picture of the man and was means to bias the public against him. Nobody even considered that, if he knew he was innocent, he might well feel the the depredations of confinement in Riker's were, indeed, unfair and unacceptable. Meanwhile, he had to quit running the IMF and watched his other political hopes disappear while he was powerless to do anything about it.
Prosecutors were very public about the credibility of the charges against Strauss-Kahn. While it now seems that they were premature, they were also very loud and adamant. Arguing that the merits of the case and the veracity of the accuser were likely strong enough to eventually win a conviction on serious charges, prosecutors pushed for absurdly high bail terms. Strauss-Kahn had to put up $1 million, guaranty another $5 million, submit to electronic monitoring and pay a quarter million dollars a month for an armed guard service to monitor his house arrest. This despite the fact that he repeatedly said that he had no intention of fleeing and, indeed, wanted to beat back the charges to clear his own name. Just today, prosecutors agreed to return all of the bail money and that Strauss-Kahn should be released on his own word. Quite a turnabout.
So... what if he wins? I'm willing to bet that no one even apologizes. What is Strauss-Kahn supposed to do to get back what he's lost? Sue an immigrant hotel maid? How would she ever pay him? Will the city at least compensate him for the money he spent funding his home confinement? I'll bet not. The city will likely argue that he could have spent all of that time in Riker's at no expense to himself. But, again, this doesn't acknowledge that people who haven't done anything wrong shouldn't be subjected to New York's prison system in the first place. Or that being in Riker's would have hindered his ability to mount (heh) his defense. When he appeared in court for the first time he was heckled by hotel workers. Will they now apologize? Will the court apologize for allowing a defendant to be subjected to such ridicule in the first place?
The personal injustices that Strauss-Kahn has endured are bad enough. But he's wealthy and influential, so I hope he'll spend some serious time making his tormentors miserable. He should definitely sue the city, the police and the Manhattan DA's office, if only to teach the system a lesson.
The police should not be leaking character damaging information about people who are merely accused of crimes. Prosecutors should not be bragging about the strength of their cases or insulting the character of the accused in the press, as was done here. Strauss-Kahn has the means to defend himself. Most people accused of crimes are completely overwhelmed by a system that has unlimited resources to deploy against them. Ordinary people can't fight and often have to cop pleas in lieu of seeking exoneration.