Fordham Law

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Faces Lengthy Legal Battle Ahead in Sex Assault Case

Deborah Denno in WNYC, June 06, 2011

Media Source

By Mirela Iverac

In the wake of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s not guilty plea on Monday, it is apparent both sides in the case are preparing for a protracted legal battle.

In the wake of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s not guilty plea, it is apparent both sides in the case are preparing for a protracted legal battle.

Once the trial begins, legal experts said much will hinge upon how credible the jury finds the testimony of the 32-year-old hotel housekeeper whom Strauss-Kahn, 62, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, allegedly sexually assaulted. And in the months before the trial begins, lawyers will argue about exactly what evidence that jury will be allowed to see.

"Most of it is going to come down to alleged victim's testimony,” said Deborah Denno, professor at Fordham Law School. "That's going to be critical."

Speaking outside court in Manhattan after the French politician's arraignment on Monday, Benjamin Brafman, Strauss-Kahn’s attorney, reiterated his client is innocent.

"No element of forcible compulsion" is present in this case, he said, signaling his strategy will be to argue that what took place on May 14 in the Sofitel Hotel was a consensual sexual interaction rather than an assault.

Strauss-Kahn allegedly attempted to rape the maid and then forced her to have oral sex. He was arrested on May 14 and later indicted on seven counts, including criminal sex act, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, and attempted rape, sexual abuse, unlawful imprisonment and forcible touching.

In the kind of a situation, where Strauss-Kahn might argue consensual oral sex took place, even the importance of the DNA evidence decreases, added Denno.

"This is a 'He said, she said' issue," said Denno. "The next question will be whether it was consensual, and there and then it's going to be very hard because no one else was in that room."

That’s where the victim’s testimony will be crucial and cannot contain any inconsistencies, experts said, particularly since she will face a renowned cross-examiner that Brafman is.

The alleged victim's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, said on Monday that his client was "devastated and traumatized" by the "terrible sexual assault," but that she had no intention to back down and would testify when the trial begins.

"She is going to come into this courthouse, get into that witness stand and tell the world what Dominique Strauss did to her," Thompson said.

Next to the victim’s testimony, prosecutors' case could be bolstered if they are able portray Strauss-Kahn’s alleged attack as part of a pattern. In an arraignment on charges on May, prosecutors said there was at least one additional alleged victim of Strauss-Kahn's. They apparently reffered to the French journalist Tristane Banon, who has accused Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her in 2002, when she met him for an interview.

Whether the prosecutors will be allowed to bring up this case or any other in trial remains to be seen. Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, experts said, will argue that it should be excluded, and that the only relevant evidence is what happened in the Sofitel.

At this point, one issue the defense and prosecution can agree on and which makes this case different from many other sexual assault cases is that there will be no plea deal.

"There is every indication that the case will go to trial because the prosecution has indicated there's intent on prosecuting," said Suzanne Goldberg, clinical professor of law at Columbia University. "And the defendant has shown no indication that he will do anything other than fight the charges."

How long the pre-trial proceedings will last and when the actual trial will begin is difficult to estimate. Experts said it could take months or even over a year. During that period, Strauss-Kahn, who was released on bail last month, will continue living in a rented house in Lower Manhattan, with armed guards, video surveillance and electronic ankle bracelet.

One issue that plays into prosecutor's favor is the speed with which the housekeeper notified the hotel staff of the alleged incident on May 14.

"She reported immediately and went to hospital, and they have forensic evidence," said Diane Rosenfeld, lecturer of law at Harvard University. "Those are all things that are very accrediting to the victim."

The defense team’s job will be to find issues that will discredit her, experts said. They will look into her finances, work record and even aspects of her life that might seem irrelevant to whether she would have an incentive to lie about the alleged incident.

"This is a very victim sympathetic situation," said Denno, referring to the fact the alleged victim was doing her job on the day she entered Strauss-Kahn’s room and was allegedly attacked. "But no one in this world is immune to a background check like this."

What sometimes tips the scale in cases like these are the resources available and coaching, consulting and advice one can afford: "Here we have a defendant who has access to a lot of money and can pay for high-end lawyers," Goldberg said. "Those resources can sometimes make a difference in the way case proceeds and even in the outcome."