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Daily View: Furore over 'perp walk'

Clare Spencer | 11:41 UK time, Thursday, 19 May 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn


The parading of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs by US police has caused a furore in France, which prohibits such pictures. The former IMF chief was given the so-called "perp walk" treatment after being arrested for alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid in New York. It has sparked debate in the US about the regularly used practice.

Reuters' Leigh Jones looks back at the history of the perp walk and what motivates the police to walk suspects past the press in handcuffs:

"Government officials as far back as FBI director Edgar Hoover in the 1920s have used perp walks to bolster public support for prosecutors. Hoover orchestrated photo opportunities for journalists to capture his arrests of mobsters Alvin Karpis and Harry Campbell.
"More recently, former U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani elevated both the term - and practice - in the public eye. Giuliani, who later became mayor of New York, knew the public relations value, for prosecutors anyway, of making defendants appear in handcuffs before the media on the way to arraignment." analyses the debates about the fairness of the perp walk and said that while some clearly use it for entertainment, it also points out that it can be used to make the public aware of law enforcement efforts.

Ben Yakas jokes in the Gothamist that Americans "love a good perp walk" and asks if perp walks are unfair for defendants, or "just the right amount of schadenfreude".

Frederic Raphael says in the Telegraph that the French think judgement has been made without a trial:

"The press here in France concedes that whether or not DSK is eventually found guilty, the verdict has already been pronounced and the sentence as good as carried out. Did the lady judge in Manhattan yield to self-importance and the prospect of national fame when she denied him bail and insisted that he be paraded in handcuffs?... The truth is that it hardly matters. One moment of alleged madness is headlined as 'an earthquake for the euro, the International Monetary Fund and for the Left'."

In the New Yorker Richard Brody hits back at accusations that the French justice system is fairer than the American one:

"I consider the French system to be, pace Joly, a much more violent judicial system, because the defendant is subjected to judicial authority without mediation, and to direct, and unrefusable, questioning. Also, there's no jury: the defendant is tried by judges unless the accusation is of a major felony. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has recently proposed the generalized trial by jury, and it's proving very controversial...
"The reason why the courtroom drama is an American genre and not a French one is that the American trial is inherently a form of theatre; the French courtroom, with its judges questioning the accused, is inherently a display of power, a subjection, an infliction."

In Poynter Al Tompkins says giving a fair trial doesn't mean restricting press coverage:

"There is a way to assure that perp walk video will not come to define a suspect: Allow cameras inside the courtroom. If journalists can capture video of the accused in court, there is no need to chase him down the sidewalk. The courtroom video is likely to show the accused in a better light, the same setting in which a jury would see them."

Slate's Christopher Beam's predicts perp walks are here to stay:

"Despite French objections, perp walks aren't disappearing anytime soon. Police love them. The media love them. And by the time any of the perp-walked suspects are proved innocent, everyone else has moved on."

All, apart from Reuters, who list those who were pictured doing the perp walk and then found not guilty.

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