Crumbled case against DSK shows absurdity of perp walk 

I have to admit, I found the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case irresistible. In DSK, the ousted sanctimonious head of the International Monetary Fund, you had the purest form of the “Champagne socialist,” a character whose flaws would be too over the top even for an Ayn Rand villain.

Here was a jet-setting champion of the poor who was charged by New York authorities with forcibly abusing the help at his $3,000-a-day luxury hotel suite — brutally raping a poor immigrant maid from West Africa. You can’t make this stuff up.

Or ... maybe you can, because last week the case against DSK imploded due to serious doubts about his accuser’s credibility. A key piece of evidence was the maid’s taped phone conversation, a day after the alleged rape, with a boyfriend being held on drug charges: “Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing.”

On Friday, recognizing that “the circumstances of this case have changed substantially,” a New York judge released DSK from house arrest.  

In May, when New York law enforcement paraded DSK before the cameras, hands cuffed behind his back, the French were outraged.

“Incredibly brutal, violent and cruel,” France’s former justice minister said.

Irritating as it might be to admit it, the French have a point.

The “perp walk” — in which suspects are ritually displayed to the media, trussed up like a hunter’s kill — has become common practice among prosecutors. But it’s a practice any country devoted to the rule of law should reject.

“Perp walks are pernicious devices,” wrote law professor Ernest F. Lidge. “They humiliate innocent defendants, taint the jury pool and titillate the public.”

Too often, they’re “used by prosecutors to build careers.”

I’ll say. As a spotlight-hungry U.S. attorney in the 1980s, Rudy Giuliani used this tactic to great effect in his war on insider trading. In 1987, he had three investment bankers cuffed at their desks and frog-marched out. One case was dropped for lack of evidence, and the other two defendants had their convictions overturned on appeal.

Ambitious prosecutors often opt for the public perp walk even when defendants offer to turn themselves in. Legal challenges rarely succeed.

Federal courts only find violations of the Fourth Amendment when they’re transparently staged for the benefit of the media, as in a 2000 case where a defendant already in custody was taken out of the station and marched in again for the local news.

Anything that serves “a legitimate law enforcement purpose,” loosely defined, generally passes muster even if the suspect isn’t dangerous and the perp walk mainly serves as a photo-op.  

Finding out whether the accused did the crime is what we do at trial. If he’s innocent, then he’s been publicly humiliated by agents of the state for no good reason. And even if he’s guilty, he deserves to have his case tried in the courts, not on cable news.

Examiner columnist Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of “The Cult of the Presidency.”

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