Strauss-Kahn likely headed for trial: experts

Ian Weinstein in Yahoo News, May 29, 2011

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by Lucile Malandain Lucile Malandain 

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Dominique Strauss-Kahn, accused of sexually assaulting a New York hotel maid, is expected to take his chances with a US jury in hopes of an acquittal, rather than plead guilty and seek a lighter sentence, legal experts say.

The US legal system organizes criminal trials in two phases. First, the prosecution presents its case to a 12-person jury, which listens to testimony and weighs evidence from both sides before reaching a verdict by unanimity.

If a guilty verdict is rendered, the court must then determine the punishment, such as a prison term. It can hear from new witnesses who can provide evidence of mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

However, at any time during the proceedings -- even while the jury is deliberating -- a defendant can plead guilty, usually as part of a "plea bargain" with prosecutors that allows for a reduced sentence.

But in the case of Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, it's highly unlikely he would plead guilty before seeing all of the evidence against him, such as DNA test results, according to experts in New York criminal laws.

Holly Maguigan, a professor at New York University School of Law, said she would be "very surprised" if he pleads guilty. Strauss-Kahn's next court appearance is June 6, and his lawyers say he'll plead not guilty.

"Whatever the offer the prosecution made, it would be accompanied by a prison sentence," Maguigan said.

"I could imagine from his point of view thinking even if I could save five or 10 years by pleading (guilty), I have given away so much of what matters to me. I am admitting guilt but it's not worth it," she said, putting herself in Strauss-Kahn's shoes.

Ian Weinstein of Fordham University School of Law agreed.

"It's hard to see that there will be an attractive enough plea bargain to make it worthwhile for him to give up the opportunity of an acquittal trial," said Weinstein, a law professor.

Under New York law, the case cannot be resolved by a financial settlement with the victim, according to the experts.

If Strauss-Kahn or someone on his behalf persuaded the alleged victim, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea who is raising a teenage daughter alone, to retract her allegations, prosecutor Cyrus Vance can still pursue the trial.

"They can proceed without her, they have other evidence, they have her (statement), her grand jury testimony," said Ellen Yaroshefsky, professor at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law.

"Whether a jury will like that is another question," she said.

Weinstein added: "In a case that has received this much attention, it would be difficult for her to become uncooperative" with prosecutors.

Strauss-Kahn forcefully declared his innocence in a letter to former colleagues. So all signs point to a trial later this year in which the alleged victim would tell the jury her version of events.

Strauss-Kahn, once a leading contender for the French presidency, is not obliged to testify, but his lawyers would likely contradict the alleged victim's account of events of May 14.

"In a typical case, the man would say it was with consent and she says no, he raped me," Yaroshefsky said. "This is a little different because there was immediate outcry. She immediately did something about it."

If Strauss-Kahn is convicted, he would then receive a sentence for each count on which he was found guilty.

The experts interviewed by AFP said he would likely be ordered to serve his sentences concurrently -- not one after the other, or consecutively, which is usually reserved for more heinous crimes.

"Given his age, the fact that he has never been convicted of a crime before, that he has in so many ways made such a large contribution to society, the fact that there is not a major injury to the victim, are prior reasons why I think most judges would think that a sentence of even 15 years would be an extremely harsh sentence for someone in his situation," Weinstein said, predicting "at least five years" if he's convicted.