When a DA's Case Is About to Crumble

By Gabe Pressman
|  Wednesday, Jul 6, 2011  |  Updated 7:10 AM EDT
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Former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn enjoys his first weekend free of house arrest.

Former IMF leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn enjoys his first weekend free of house arrest.

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Did the district attorney’s office foul up the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn?

With strong signs that the case is crumbling, some critics are denouncing DA Cyrus Vance for failing to do a good job in pursuing this high-profile investigation. 

Such criticism, in my view, is unfair. Vance deserves credit for doing his duty as a prosecutor, pursuing the truth even when it jeopardized the prosecution’s indictment.

At the outset of the investigation, there seemed to be strong evidence that the woman who accused Strauss-Kahn was telling the truth.  There were semen stains on her clothes and bruises on her body.  According to The New York Times, seasoned investigators cried when they heard her story.

The accuser, a young immigrant chamber maid, said Strauss-Kahn raped her. The prosecutors took Strauss-Kahn off a plane about to fly to Europe because they were afraid they’d lose him if they let him leave the country.

The powerful French defendant was put under house arrest for five days while prosecutors pursued their investigation.

Later, they found that the alleged victim had a background that showed she had told lies and even planned a possible civil case against the wealthy Frenchman. And the prosecutors turned over these facts to Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys. The judge released him from house arrest.

There’s been a lot of whining from Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys and friends. They deplore the fact that he was put into handcuffs. 

One friend, the French writer Bernard-Henri Levy railed against “this vision of Dominique Strauss-Kahn humiliated in chains, dragged lower than the gutter” because Vance chose to believe “a hotel chambermaid” over this esteemed member of the French establishment.

As reporter Joe Nocera wrote in the New York Times:  “Levy, himself a member of the French elite, seems particularly incensed that Vance wouldn’t automatically give Strauss-Kahn a pass, given his extraordinary social status. Especially since his accuser had no status at all.

“But that is exactly why Vance should be applauded: a woman with no power made a credible accusation against a man with enormous power. He acted without fear or favor. To have done otherwise would have been to violate everything we believe in this country about no one being above the law.”

We don’t know how this case will ultimately turn out. The facts are complex. But I asked Anthony Barkow, a former federal prosecutor, how he saw it.

He praised Vance “because he was presented with a credible accusation by a victim. He proceeded quickly, which was understandable because of the seriousness of the charges and the flight risk, and then, when information emerged about the accuser’s lack of credibility, he agreed to change the bail conditions and disclose everything to the defense. That’s how we’d want a prosecutor to act.”

Indeed this case is almost a litmus test for the American system of justice. Everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the law. So far, it appears that this ideal is being fulfilled.

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