Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Should Perp Walks Be Legal?

As scandals go in France, a nation seemingly lubricated by them, the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges that he tried to rape a New York hotel chambermaid is enormous.

The International Monetary Fund chief was widely considered to have a shot at replacing President Nicholas Sarkozy next year. And although he has a reputation for sexual indiscretions, semen-stained dresses are typically taken to the cleaners in France and not presented as evidence in impeachment proceedings.

But that is not what has the French so upset. It is that great American tradition of the "perp walk" in which a handcuffed Strauss-Kahn was paraded by police for the benefit of the news media.

"I found that image to be incredibly brutal, violent and cruel," said former French Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou, apparently speaking for many of her countryfolk. "I am happy that we do not have the same judicial system."

Speaking for myself, I am happy that Americans do not have the French judicial system, although I do love their cuisine. But Guigou does raise a point: Are perp walks appropriate, let alone constitutional?

Two Court of Appeals rulings indicate that the answer is yes and no.

In Lauro v. Charles (2000), the Second Circuit ruled that perp walks which are staged solely for the media violate a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, but found that most perp walks are not such violations.

Then in Caldarola v. County of Westchester (2003), the same court found that perp walks undertaken as part of a legitimate law enforcement action such as transporting a suspect from a jail to a courthouse do not violate a suspect's rights. For good measure, it added that perp walks may serve legitimate government purposes, including educating the public about law-enforcement efforts and enhancing the transparency of the criminal justice system.

The most famous perp walk, of course, is that of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The accused assassin of President Kennedy was paraded in front of TV cameras several times as he was moved from place to place in Dallas Police Headquarters, even being allowed to speak to the media at times. The last of these walks culminated in Oswald being shot dead by Jack Ruby.

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