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The Use of the 'Perp Walk' in Criminal Cases: Offense and Defense

In The National Law Journal this week, Mike Scarcella writes about the use of the "perp walk" in criminal proceedings, and whether it is reasonable for authorities to use this tactic on defendants who have yet to be convicted. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, a perp walk is a media spectacle that typically involves police putting a high-profile defendant in handcuffs (and sometimes an orange jumpsuit, to boot) and parading him or her into a courthouse for their initial court appearance.

It looks like this, in the case of accused Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford:


Or more recently, like this in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn:


As the Strauss-Kahn case may demonstrate, however, not all perp-walked defendants will turn out to be convicted. By the time they are found not guilty, however, the image of their perp walk will be imprinted on the public consciousness -- a bell that cannot be unrung. Perhaps surprisingly, this possibility is given greater consideration in places like France than in the U.S. Indeed, the NLJ article reports that it is illegal in France to publish photos of defendants in handcuffs unless the person is convicted.

In the U.S., defendants have attempted to challenge the practice of perp walks without success. In 2003, the 2nd Circuit upheld the practice, ruling that perp walks "may deter others from attempting similar crimes." Critics point out, however, that the public shaming that comes with the perp walk is inconsistent with the presumption of innocence that is a core principle of U.S. criminal law.

What, then, are defendants facing a perp walk to do? Some have tried to defeat the perp walk by shielding their faces like the guy in the image at the top of this post. But as I pointed out years ago, this type of face-shield has its drawbacks, including the "real risk of walking straight into a pole or stepping in a hole or something." I also suggested that some entrepreneur might want to roll out a line of Perp Masks (examples below) that would do the job of the manilla folder above while still permitting the defendant to see and breathe.  But five years later no one has run with my idea, leaving U.S. "perps" in their current predicament.

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Posted by Bruce Carton on July 13, 2011 at 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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