The Case of the Frisky Frenchman is not so Clear Cut After All

by ANNEMARIE MCAVOY May 17, 2011
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”), is now being held in jail without bail due to allegations made by a hotel maid in New York City. The claims are salacious. However, whether they are true or not remains to be seen.
It appears that many Americans are willing to say the charges must be true, given the fact that Strauss-Kahn is known as a womanizer, and is French. This may well be a case where his past history is catching up with him. He is known as “the great seducer” and “the hot rabbit.” It was common knowledge that he had extra-marital affairs. In 2008 he had an affair with an employee which led to an investigation conducted by the IMF to determine whether he had abused his power. He was cleared of misconduct. In 2007 another woman came forward and said that back in 2002, when she was interviewing Strauss-Kahn, he attempted to rape her. She did not file charges against him at the time, but claimed in an interview in 2007 that she had seen a lawyer about the incident. 
Although this defendant has quite a reputation, that does not mean that he attempted to rape the maid in question on Saturday. One need only think back to the case of the Duke lacrosse players. In 2006 a woman falsely alleged to have been raped by members of the Duke University lacrosse team. The charges were dropped a year later. The North Carolina Attorney General at the time stated that these young men were the victims of a “tragic rush to accuse.”
In the case of Strauss-Kahn, there could be a number of reasons why someone might make false accusations against him. One might be that he is perceived as being a wealthy man who would be able to pay a substantial sum to make such allegations go away quickly, whether they are true or not. He could also be the target of political assassination. Saturday morning he was front-runner in the race for the presidency of France. By that afternoon he was for all practical purposes out of the race due to the allegations of a hotel housekeeper. It was certainly foreseeable that if a serious assertion came up involving him behaving in an inappropriate way with a woman it would mean the end of his candidacy. While all would hope no one would stoop to setting up a presidential candidate to get him out of the race, the reality is that greed and power sometimes make people do unthinkable things. 
The fact that Strauss-Kahn did not get out on bail today does not mean that he is guilty. Given that he is a French citizen of means, he could easily flee to France.  The judge is well-aware of the fact that once Strauss-Kahn gets back there he may well never return to the United States, as happened with Roman Polanski. Even though Polanski had pled guilty to having sexual relations with a 13 year old girl, in 1978, just before he was to be sentenced, he fled the country and went to France. He did not come back, and France refused to extradite him to the United States. He is still free. The concern is that the same could happen with Strauss-Kahn.
The line-up conducted in which the complainant fingered Strauss-Kahn is also not dispositive of guilt. In fact, it was tainted by events that day. Reports are that the maid, when she complained to the hotel staff, was shown a photo of the man who stayed in the room in question, Strauss-Kahn. The defense will certainly argue that this meant that she knew who she was looking for in the line-up, instead of recalling from her independent recollection.
The review of the evidence, which has not yet been released, is what is needed to determine guilt in this case. Strauss-Kahn voluntarily submitted to a physical examination and DNA testing. This may mean that he knew he had none of her DNA on him, and no scratches or bruises from a struggle. In France it has been reported that Strauss-Kahn’s legal team indicated there is a potential alibi. A French radio station has said Strauss-Kahn checked out of the hotel before the attack is alleged to have taken place, and was instead at lunch with his daughter. There also have been hints by his lawyers that any sexual encounter that may have taken place was consensual. As for him hopping on a plane that afternoon, it is dispositive of nothing since he was due in Germany the next day to meet with German Chancellor Andrea Merkel. Thus, he would be expected to be getting on a plane to Europe on Saturday.
There seems to be a rush to judgment in this case. The presumption of innocence applies to all defendants. Even though this one is well-known and powerful, with quite the reputation of being very aggressive with the ladies, he still has a right to his day in court before being found guilty of this crime. Not all the evidence in this case has come out yet, and until it does no one really knows what happened in that $3,000 a night hotel room. The DNA testing of both the woman and Strauss-Kahn will be very important in determining guilt. A review of hotel records, especially relating to the check-out time, needs to be conducted.  Hotel video surveillance showing who was in the hotel suite at the time the attack is supposed to have occurred and how the maid and Strauss-Kahn looked when they left it could be damning. Interviews of hotel staff and others who were in the hotel who may have witnessed Strauss-Kahn leave the suite or the hotel and who saw the maid after the alleged attack are certainly relevant. 
Once the evidence is in, if it turns out that Strauss-Kahn did try to rape this woman, he deserves whatever punishment he gets. He faces many, many years in jail if he is found guilty. No one should be allowed to treat women in the way alleged, whether they are powerful or not. However, before conclusions are drawn the evidence needs at least to be reviewed. Contributor Annemarie McAvoy is a former federal prosecutor. She currently is a consultant and teaches Counter-Terrorism, Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing at Fordham Law School in New York City.

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