Parading accused people in handcuffs in front of news cameras may seem like great sport to some, but it can also be degrading and unnecessary, whether the accused is Dominique Strauss-Kahn and running the International Monetary Fund or Joe Smith, an assistant to the local dogcatcher.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn had a point, or at least half of one, when he complained in a weekend interview on French television that the U.S. criminal-justice system had irreparably tarnished his image by serving up those news pictures. “I felt that I was trampled on, humiliated, even before I had the chance to say a word.” Why the handcuffs? Was he a flight risk if his hands were free? Would the swarm of officers around him have been in danger? And why was a female officer putting on gloves before, presumably, doing a body search of Mr. Strauss-Kahn, in full view of cameras, or at all?
On the other hand, he tarnished his own image. It will not soon recover, even though sexual assault charges have been dropped, because he had a sexual encounter with a hotel maid while on IMF business. He showed colossally poor judgment. As he himself admits, he betrayed his wife and the people of France. If his image is in a dungheap, he put it there.
In Toronto, police officers are told they must place handcuffs on juveniles when arresting them at schools. Is that truly necessary in all, or even most, cases? Routine handcuffing is similar to the routine strip search of people detained at police stations, a practice the Supreme Court of Canada has ordered an end to. Often there is no legitimate security purpose. “When you are snatched up by the jaws of that machine, you have the impression that it can crush you,” Mr. Strauss-Kahn said. When that impression sets in, it becomes much harder for accused people, some of whom may be innocent, to fight for acquittal.
France bans news-media images of accused persons in handcuffs before they have been convicted of a crime. But that goes too far. What if people are being shackled? Such images cut two ways; they can protect people from excesses, too. But the logic behind the French law stands – that people who may be innocent should not as a matter of course be treated as criminals, until proven to be.