(Editor’s Note: Former Monterey Park Mayor Monty Manibog is a regular columnist offering legal tips and perspective on high profile legal cases and events.)
Prosecutors in New York Quickly arrested and indicted the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on May 14, 2011 on the mere allegations of a hotel chambermaid who claimed he sexually assaulted her in his hotel room that she was about to clean. Such serious felony charges of course warrant thorough and intensive investigations before formal indictment and charges are actually filed to at least adhere to the legal presumption of innocence and avoiding irreparable harm to the accused.
While immediately arrested and later placed under house arrest on a million dollar bail, Strauss-Kahn, who is highly revered in France and international banking circles and deemed a likely winning candidate for the French presidency, high highly esteemed reputation and political career has been apparently damaged after months of notoriety.
Upon further investigation, however, New York prosecutors determined that they could not prove Strauss-Kahn’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as the chambermaid’s stories changed so rapidly over a three-month period and her own background that came to light would gravely affect her credibility.
Among other things, she publicly announced she was not interested in Strauss-Kahn’s money but her recorded phone statement to a jailed boy friend asserted that she expected to make a lot of money out of her case.
Credibility is the key to a successful or failed prosecution and that was the huge problem as to the accuser’s credibility, prompting the prosecutors to file a motion to dismiss all charges against Strauss-Kahn. State Supreme Court justice Michael J. Obus dismissed all criminal charges against the IMF chief.
Indeed, Miss Nafissatou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant from East Africa, was caught in so many lies which prompted the prosecution to seek dismissal.
While the case exemplifies the sometimes too eager attitudes to indict and convict prominent and high profile people, at least these prosecutors clearly read the writing on the wall that the accuser’s lack of credibility would derail their case. Unfortunately, some prosecutors have been motivated to prosecute to acquire fame and career boosts by convicting high profile people and celebrities.
Martha Stewart, diva of gracious living, was originally charged with manipulating her company’s stock prices, a serious felony, by merely exercising her constitutional right to claim innocence.
The court, of course, threw out the serious charge though she was convicted of the lesser misdemeanor charge of lying to the securities exchange commission.
And the conviction of the late senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest serving Republic U.S. Senator on bribery and corruption charges, was subsequently overturned by a federal judge who ruled that the prosecution’s withholding of exculpatory evidence (evidence favorable to Stevens) was the worst kind of prosecutorial misconduct he had ever witnessed and order the investigation of the prosecution team for their misconduct.
Unfortunately, the wrongdoing was revealed too late and Stevens lost his bid for re-election after his conviction, though now declared innocent, and died shortly after his conviction was overturned.
While our system of justice is the best in the world, the rights of the accused well protected, some prosecutors’ personal ambitions often get in the way of justice
But the scales of justice swings both ways, as in the case of former North Carolina district attorney Mike Nifong, who clearly prosecuted the Duke University La Crosse athletes on some rape charges for his own re-election prospects despite very strong evidence of the athletes’ innocence.
The state attorney general dismissed all charges against the athletes and district attorney Nifong was disbarred and criminally charged for his grave misconduct.
There have been prosecutorial misconduct cases too numerous to discuss in one column. Though I qualify this statement by pointing out that the majority of prosecutors are decent and dedicated public servants who help put a lot of bad people behind bars for the public’s safety.
However, when charged with a criminal offense, one should always retain an experienced criminal lawyer if you are to protect your rights and not be railroaded into an unjust conviction.
Remember the age old adage, “If you sleep on your rights, you may well lose them.”