War Declared Against France (Update)
When a major international figure gets nabbed for a sex crime, it's got to be big. Huge. That International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of forcing a hotel maid to give him oral sex was custom-made for titillation and outrage. Assuming, of course, it happened.
Within the first 48 hours, the story changed so much that I hesitate to bother with it. First, he was alleged to have fled his hotel to jump into a first class seat headed for Paris that he left his cellphone behind in the room. Then, it turned out that he checked out of the hotel in the normal course, had lunch with his daughter and, afterward, took his seat on the airplane as had been the plan when he purchased the ticket a week earlier.
When it turned out that DSK, as he's known in France when not called the Great Seducer (and how many men would hate to be called that, except under these circumstances?) could not have engaged in sex crimes at 1 p.m., the allegations miraculously shifted to an hour earlier, noon, to defeat his alibi. The police were supposedly called about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, which means Lucy got some 'splainin' to do.
DSK also cooperated with the cops by letting them fondle his manly form in search of evidence to be used against him. No doubt, his lawyer at that moment thought cooperating with the cops would buy him goodwill, demonstrating laughable cluelessness. Then Ben Brafman was brought in, and made the appropriate bail pitch, albeit offering $1 million where it would have been $1000 for any other defendant.
Bail denied. Defendant remanded.
But prosecutors said that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s resources, the lack of an extradition treaty between the United States and France, and the defendant’s history were all reasons that he should not be granted bail.
He had "the means, the motive and the connections to flee." And indeed, he does.
Judge [Melissa C.] Jackson, the supervising judge of Manhattan Criminal Court, indicated that she was concerned about Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s being stopped at the airport.
“When I hear that your client was at J.F.K. Airport about to board a flight,” she said, “that raises some concern.” The judge also indicated that she would not reconsider her bail decision, even if Mr. Strauss-Kahn were to agree to wear an ankle monitor.
It certainly does raise "some concern." And the balance of the information certainly dispels that concern. Whether DSK committed the crime alleged or not, this isn't the sort of crime for which bail would not be granted. It might be high bail based on the nature of the offense and potential sentence, say $100,000, or low bail based on the nature of the defendant, a man whose entire life is vested in his responsible position in the international community, and who can't exactly run off to Morocco and hide.
But he could sneak on a train to Montreal wearing a fake mustache and grab the first flight to Aix-en-Provence, living out the rest of his life as an itinerant painter. Judge Jackson saw that coming a mile away.
Which creates the current conundrum. Does this mean that all wealthy French guys must be remanded? Is this the legacy of Roman Polanski? Well, yes. That's exactly what this means, because the decision to remand ignored the many considerations that otherwise apply to a bail determination, all trumped by the argument that he has "the means, the motive and the connections to flee."
The problem is this generic argument, applicable to all wealthy French people, is either insurmountable or not. If it is, then it was certainly overcome here, where DSK turned over his passport and other papers, offered big bail and even to wear America's favorite jewelry, the ankle bracelet. What's left, maybe have a kidney removed and held captive until the case is over?
The fact that DSK was taken off a plane ends up being a non-starter, unless there is some basis to believe that he planned the sexual assault a week in advance, timed it perfectly and had his escape route lined up. What this decision shows is how rhetoric, the expression of a theoretical risk, makes judges tremble with fear. Judge Jackson has no plans of being the judge who cut DSK free, so that he could run away to France and laugh at America with a glass of that vile Pernod in his hand. No judge wants to look bad, and no judge really wants to look bad when the world is watching.
So DSK could abscond. So could pretty much anyone else. You don't have to be particularly wealthy to buy a train ticket to Montreal. Even the flight to France is relatively affordable on the internet. And once there, the same lack of an extradition treaty applies to everyone. There's nothing special about DSK's ability to flee. That he speaks the language is no big deal; any fool can order an eclair at a Patisserie and live out the rest of his life happy.
Brafman will await his next court appearance, known in New York criminal jargon as 180.80 day when the prosecution either has indicted or the defendant must be cut free without bail. DSK will no doubt be indicted, at least for something (it need not be the actual crime for which he was arrested to do the trick), to keep him in. The mechanics of challenging a bail denial in New York are a bit convoluted, but go through a Supreme Court Justice to an Appellate Division justice for bail pending appeal.
The decision of Criminal Court Judge Jackson declares war on France, even though it likely didn't seem that way at the time. With some greater thought, it would seem likely that the next judge to hear the issue of bail will decide that warn on France isn't a great idea, particularly when the decision comes from an arraignment court in Manhattan and when DSK has offered everything short of a kidney to assure his return to court.
Until then, DSK is hanging on the Rock and the American system, yet again, looks ridiculous to the rest of the world. The only question now is whether sanity will prevail or they will hire some guy to chisel into the limestone the words, "the means, the motive and the connections to flee."
Update: Cooler heads prevailed and war has been averted. Justice Michael Obus granted bail to DSK's new attorney(!), Zuckerman Spaeder's Shaun Naunton, along with Bill Taylor. $1 Million and house arrest did the trick, because our borders aren't secure enough to keep DSK from sneaking on a jet plane.