Saturday, May 21, 2011

What Would Have Happened in France?

The DSK affair has forced people on both sides of the Atlantic to think about the merits and defects of our respective justice systems. A friendly dialogue continues with Bernard Girard, for example. But I put this question to those of you who know the French system: What would have happened if this allegation had arisen in France? I know that many will say immediately that it would have been made to go away, that power and influence would have been brought to bear on the alleged victim, who might have been paid to retract her story, and somehow it would have been kept out of the papers.

That's the cynical response, and I don't deny that such things can happen. But let's assume that things didn't go that way. Let's assume that the woman stuck to her story, that the police were incorruptible, and that the case landed in the lap of a zealous juge d'instruction. Key question: Would a man accused of a violent sexual assault have been released back into the community? Would he have been able to keep his job at the IMF? Wouldn't the newspapers and other media have relayed all the lurid stories about his past, just as they have done after his incarceration in the US? Wouldn't he likely have been forced out of the presidential race, pending resolution of the case? Wouldn't his lawyers go after the victim, as they no doubt will in the US (to the extent that the judge allows them to--not all evidence is admissible in the US). Can anyone enlighten me about this?


Steven Rendall said...

Not quite on topic, but I thought you mind find mildly interesting this summary of German journalistic opinion on the DSK affair:,1518,762779,00.html

FRANCIS said...

Can I remember you what happened to the Frideman family in the 80's as presented in the excellent documentary "Capturing the Friedmans" ?

"In police interviews, some of the children [Arnold] Friedman taught stated Friedman played bizarre sex games with them during their computer classes. Jarecki [the film direcor] interviewed some of these children himself; some stated that they had been in the room with other children alleging abuse, and that nothing had happened. The film portrayed police investigative procedures as the genesis of a "witch-hunt" in the Friedmans' community."

"Arnold Friedman died in prison in 1995, leaving a $250,000 life insurance benefit to his son. Jesse Friedman was released from prison in 2001 after serving 13 years of his sentence."

"On August 16, 2010 [20 years after the trial !] the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [...] said he was probably wrongly convicted and was pressured into pleading guilty to a crime he may not have committed because police, prosecutors and the judge in the case were overzealous and swept up in the hysteria of the times. "

Anonymous said...

In the 1980s, DNA evidence didn't exist.
Police services and DAs didn't know as much about the psychology of abused children. For example, we now know that they may blame someone "safe" when the perp is someone very close to them; it's their way of saying 'I'm being abused, help me, but it's even worse if I face the fact the person torturing me is supposed to love and protect me."

This case has nothing to do with the Friedmans'.

Honestly, it's impossible for me to think of what would have happened. The consensus - what people are sure of - is "nothing". Friends with legal knowledge just guffaw at the thought anything could have happened. For them, it's as if you were asking "what if the earth was flat?" Until now, apparently, everybody "assumed" that a politician who'd assault a woman would get away with it and therefore there was no point in even pressing charges. Until now: because apparently this case may change things.

Anonymous said...

What would have happened if the accused had been a leading US figure, rather than a foreigner?

Arthur Goldhammer said...

A leading US figure: my guess is that exactly the same thing would have happened that is happening to DSK, except perhaps with a lower bail because of a smaller flight risk.

FrédéricLN said...

@ Art: I don't know our French system well enough to answer your questions.

I just imagine the tactics of the defendant lawyers might have been to:

- obtain the case be assigned to a "juge d'instruction" already overloaded with other affairs - slow the things a long time enough, until even the sharpest evidence becomes fuzzy;

- exert some financial or other influence on the complainant (woman), in order to obtain that she withdraws her complaint.

That's exactly what Jacques Chirac's lawyers did in the case of the "emplois fictifs de la ville de la Paris". Would this work for a sex affair? I wonder.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the above anonymous was Squiggle, like this.

I don't know but I have to say I find it hard to imagine a US President or senior politician being treated in the same way. But I don't know.

And for the earlier stories about DSK and what they might mean about French politics in comparison to US politics, surely you only have to think of the stories about Bill Clinton to wonder if the differences are all that great. I'm sure there are many problems with French politics but I find the triumphalism of many responses (not yours) to this case to be unpleasant. Almost crowing that the US is gonna lay some truth on France. Glee in the downfall of a someone because of what he might have done but because he was powerful, or because he's supposedly a champagne socialist etc. I know it's to be expected, but still.

Anonymous said...

To the previous anonymous commenter, I see a major difference between these 2 cases. Clinton was known to be a womanizer, conducting extramarital but consensual affairs. DSK was not arrested for having an affair. He was arrested for attempted rape, assault, forced sodomy, etc. And his rap sheet reads accordingly.

The analysis on this case has often grouped together the DSK affair with American puritanism, which I would agree, leads to unrealistic expectations of politicians regarding their own personal lives, marriages, and so on. But again, DSK was not arrested for adultery.

I think that if an American politician was accused of the same crime that DSK is accused of, that is, a violent sexual ASSAULT, especially in the case of attempted stranger rape, he would be treated similarly.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, but I mean that the stories about what DSK might have done before this case aren't very different to those about Clinton (Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers). Not that I know whether there was any truth to those stories but they didn't stop him from becoming President of the USA (and without proof, that's only fair).

p.s. Leaving those stories aside, the problem with knowing what would have happened anywhere with something like the present case is that we don't know what has been successfully hushed up.

~ Squiggle

Anonymous said...

p.p.s. I find this little box most frustrating! My posts usually come out all wrong and I should probably copy and paste them from somewhere else but just let me add that I think that the fact that DSK is a foreigner, and, although very powerful, a foreigner who headed an international organisation rather than another country, made it easier for this to happen. I have no proof at all and, obviously, I don't know the French system but my reaction to the question is to say that the US or France (or any country?) would find it harder to press charges against one of its own leaders or, for that matter, against an important official representative of another country. I suspect that DSK as President of France would have enjoyed more protection than DSK as the head of the IMF.

~ Squiggle