* Strauss-Kahn incident caused outrage in France
* Opponents hope for change, say they harm defendants
By Leigh Jones
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Maybe the French were right.
When former IMF chief Dominique Strauss Kahn, then a
leading presidential contender, was paraded in front of media
mobs handcuffed and unshaven after his arrest in May, French
politicians and commentators were outraged, slamming the "perp
walk" as sensationalist and unfair.
Some Americans defended the practice of displaying criminal
suspects handcuffed before cameras as part of the U.S. system
of justice, but now that doubts have been raised about the
hotel maid accusing Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, critics are
asking whether the practice should be ended.
"I hope it is," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of
the New York Civil Liberties Union. "They are thinly veiled
attempts to poison the atmosphere and begin the trial in the
The "perp walk" -- "perp" short for perpetrator -- is
virtually unseen in Western Europe.
In France, the presumption of innocence bars the media from
showing defendants in handcuffs before they are convicted.
In Britain, suspects largely are kept from public view and
are transported in vans with blacked out windows.
By contrast, in some Latin American countries, officials
force suspects to confess in front of cameras. In Thailand,
people charged with a crime sometimes are forced to re-enact
their supposed deeds in front of onlookers or appear before the
items they are charged with stealing.
Critics of perp walks argue that they are more commonly
conducted with poor minority suspects who will depend on a
public defender than they are with wealthy elite like
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now taking a
different stance on perp walks than he did in May when
Strauss-Kahn was arrested. "I think it is humiliating, but if
you don't want to do the perp walk, don't do the crime,"
Bloomberg said at the time.
At a press conference Tuesday, Bloomberg called the
practice "outrageous," adding, "We vilify (defendants) for the
benefit of theater, for the circus." Bloomberg he said that he
had "no say" in the police department's use of them.
Officially, neither the mayor nor the district attorney is
responsible for approving or conducting perp walks. They come
under the purview of the New York Police Department, since
allowing prosecutors to handle them could raise ethical issues
of prejudicing a trial.
Bloomberg's office did not respond to requests asking
whether he would push for a change in the practice. Police
Commissioner Ray Kelly's office did not respond to requests for
Former federal prosecutor Joel Cohen said the Strauss-Kahn
case presents a strong argument for doing away with perp walks,
but he's skeptical of changes happening any time soon.
"It'll be yesterday's news," said Cohen, now a white-collar
criminal attorney at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in New York.
"The only reason why anybody is really bothered is because the
French said what a horrible thing it is."
Investigators initially believed the story of the hotel
maid who charged that Strauss-Kahn pounced on her in his luxury
suite and forced her to perform oral sex, but have since raised
doubt about her credibility, citing a series of lies.
Though criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn remain in
effect, the weakening of the case against him shows how perp
walks can backfire.
The image of a sweaty and disheveled Strauss-Kahn being
escorted by detectives coming out of the police Special Victims
Unit angered his French supporters.
For Derek Champagne, president of the District Attorneys
Association of the State of New York, perp walks serve to help
draw out witnesses who might not recognize the defendant
otherwise and serve the public's right to know by providing
images of the accused.
The justifications for holding perp walks are "baloney" and
"there's actually no legitimate purpose," said Lieberman, the
Cohen, the former prosecutor turned defense lawyer, agreed.
The perp walk, he said, "allows the DA to slap themselves on
the back with an important arrest."
(Additional reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Daniel
Trotta and Sandra Maler)
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