WASHINGTON — Unfortunately, rushing to judgment seems to be an integral part of the American justice system, and the latest example of this is the imprudent swiftness of the prosecution of Dominique Strauss-Kahn for the alleged rape of a maid at an upscale New York hotel.
You might have missed the drama involving the former director of the International Monetary Fund, but only if you were living under a rock. According to the original allegations leveled by the accuser, an immigrant from Guinea, Strauss-Kahn charged out of the bathroom naked and assaulted her as she prepared to clean his room. He later was arrested at the airport as he prepared for a trip to France where he was considered a good bet to become the leading presidential candidate.
Now it seems in a case that parallels one a few years ago involving Duke University lacrosse players, there is considerable doubt about the veracity of the alleged victim. Strauss-Kahn has been released from house arrest and his $1 million cash bond returned. The victim’s story has changed and she now turns out to have mysterious bank accounts, an incarcerated boyfriend to whom she bragged about Strauss-Kahn’s wealth, and a penchant for twisting the truth, including claims of a gang rape in Guinea that didn’t happen. New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. may now face his own political problems over this and rightly so.
The most glaring similarity between this and the Duke matter is that in both instances prosecutors sped full steam ahead without proper investigation of the person making the allegations, seeing an opportunity it seems to enhance their political standings by nailing a prominent figure or institution.
Duke University officials compounded the errors by moving prematurely against the three players charged, cancelling the lacrosse program and firing the coach, all before the ink dried on the allegations of the woman who had fabricated them and a prosecutor who bought her lie hook, line and sinker. He was later censured for prosecutorial misconduct, removed from office and disbarred. He clearly had proceeded in an effort to enhance his re-election chances by showing Durham’s blacks that as a white prosecutor he was not oblivious to the abuses of white students against a black woman.
Vance apparently did not stop to consider the ludicrousness of the allegations — to assess the probabilities of a portly 62-year-old charging out of a bathroom nude to assault a maid. He bought the woman’s story completely and foolishly bolted ahead. Was there sex involved? Forensic evidence would indicate there was. It was not the first time Strauss-Kahn had been accused of rape. But determining whether or not it was consensual in this instance, as Strauss-Kahn claims, depends pretty much on whom one believes — he or she — and it now has become much more difficult if not impossible for a jury to accept her version.
Tragically, both cases aren’t that unusual in a prosecutorial system that depends on the ability to convict under any circumstance as the key to success. No points are scored for losing and the smell of prominent blood is enticing. Vance, since taking over for the revered Robert Morgenthau, has had a list of failures and this case might have erased some of that in the public’s mind, especially since it pitted the downtrodden against the powerful.
That brings up another point. The public must accept some of the blame in these matters. Nothing makes better copy than a sensational charge by a poor underdog against a wealthy alleged predator to stir up the masses. Trying to placate the mob is just built into the system. One can see that in the willingness of small town juries who often seem to regard an arrest as a prima facie case of guilt and vote accordingly no matter what.
By all accounts, Strauss-Kahn has engaged in prior aggressive sexual behavior toward women.
That made him vulnerable. If he indeed had a consensual sexual encounter with this woman, his judgment clearly is not what it should be.
But that is not enough to convict him. The rush to judgment by Vance also may have damaged America’s image as a place of equal justice.
— Scripps Howard News Service