We should be proud of how our system of justice worked in the sordid case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a latterday Louis XIV, who was accused of raping a Sofitel Hotel chambermaid in New York. The status of neither mattered in Les États–Unis.
When it appeared that Strauss-Kahn was guilty and attempting to flee, he was hauled off a flight bound for Europe at New York’s JFK International and arrested. When it subsequently appeared that the accusing chambermaid, Nafissatou Diallo, is a serial liar, the charges were dropped.
In between, there was a perp walk that hugely agitated the French, unaccustomed as the heirs of the stormers of the Bastille are to seeing VIPs treated like everybody else. But in the U.S., our system of justice treats Sun Kings and chambermaids the same way.
I have to agree with the Wall Street Journal:
…not many of the people involved can be pleased. That sometimes happens when the interests of justice are well served.
This is a case that for all its twists and turns had the right outcome. DNA evidence makes it clear that something happened in the Sofitel suite. But it is impossible to tell if what happened was by consent or if Ms. Diallo was trying to frame the rich Frenchman. Her relationship to the truth meant that the case could not proceed.
The hero in this sorry saga is Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who has been accused of acting too aggressively to stop Strauss-Kahn’s hasty return to the safety of France and then having to drop the charges. Vance did the right thing from start to finish. The Journal asks:
Could any responsible prosecutor have behaved differently?
It had to be unpleasant for Vance to drop the charges. But he did. The Journal praises him for being “responsible:”
By “responsible,” we mean something other than, say, former Durham County DA Mike Nifong, the infamous (and since disbarred) prosecutor of the Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape in 2006. We also mean something other than former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who did better prosecuting his victims in the media than in court. What we have in mind is what Justice George Sutherland spelled out in Berger v. United States, which is that the prosecution’s obligation “is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.”
By this standard, which the prosecution cited in its recommendation to dismiss, it’s hard to see where Mr. Vance went wrong. Was the DA’s office too quick to arrest DSK? At the time, the police had good grounds to believe Ms. Diallo and equal grounds to believe that Mr. Strauss-Kahn, then aboard an Air France jet awaiting departure at Kennedy airport, was a real flight risk.
Was Mr. Vance wrong to subject DSK to a “perp walk”? Commentators in France have called the practice unfair and even barbarous. But it’s standard practice in New York City, and anyway we don’t see what’s particularly cultured about men who have fleeting sexual encounters with hotel staff who happen to enter their room….
French citizens may not mind their leaders acting out their Louis XIV fantasies with impunity, but Manhattan isn’t Paris. DSK got neither more nor less than he deserved-something for which he can blame, and thank, Cy Vance and America’s justice system.
It can’t be easy being Cyrus Vance, Jr., but Vance deserves credit for making several hard calls. Meanwhile, Strauss-Kahn isn’t getting off entirely-the arrest led a French novelist, who claims that this savory former leader of the international finance community had raped her, to sue him in Europe. There are also calls for Ms. Diallo’s deportation.