House arrest: What ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn can expect

House arrest offers major advantages over jail. But the confinement comes with a price – including, in Strauss-Kahn's case, a $200,000-a-month bill for his guards.

Richard Drew / AP
Former leader of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, listens to proceedings in his case in New York State Supreme Court, May 19. A judge set bail at $1 million Thursday, and approved an elaborate arrangement under which the 62-year-old diplomat and banker would be confined to a private apartment in Manhattan and monitored by armed guards at his own expense.

After six nights at Rikers Island, former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn will get to spend his nights in a Manhattan apartment—and most of his days, as well. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, charged with the sexual attack of a hotel housekeeper, begins “house arrest” on May 20.

“He is a prisoner in his home – but that is far preferable than being a guest of the state of New York,” says Robert Mintz, a former US Attorney, now a partner at McCarter & English in Newark, N.J.

In fact, Strauss-Kahn, one of the leading contenders to be President of France in 2012, might even be able to get a croque-monsieur delivered from one of New York’s many French restaurants – and instead of a cellmate, lives with his wife.

Normally reserved for white-collar criminals not considered a threat to other people, house arrest is rarely an option for those, like Strauss-Kahn, accused of violent crimes, former prosecutors note.

Some white-collar criminals recently sentenced to home confinement include:

  • Bernard Madoff, who bilked people out of billions in a Ponzi scheme
  • Martha Stewart, who served five months of home confinement after her conviction for lying to federal investigators
  • Raj Rajaratnam, one of the founders of the Galleon hedge fund, who remains under house arrest after his conviction for insider trading, earlier this month.

Strauss-Kahn: Flight risk?

Many home arrests are individually tailored. Sometimes they allow work, but no movement at night or weekends. Strauss-Kahn is under a stricter confinement, to maximize the chance he will show up for trial, says Stan Twardy, a former US Attorney and a partner with Day Pitney in Stamford, Conn.

Strauss-Kahn will only be allowed to leave the apartment for religious services, medical purposes, and court appearances. He will have an armed guard in his apartment at all times, and he will wear an electronic bracelet around his ankle.

Prosecutors, particularly concerned because France does not extradite its own citizens, opposed Strauss-Kahn’s release on bail.

Benefits of house arrest

No matter how restrictive, it is preferable to time in jail, say lawyers who have had clients sentenced to home confinement.

“It’s a simple equation. If the choice is being in jail [or going home], all make the choice of being released on home confinement,” says Alan Kaufman, a former federal prosecutor and now a partner at the law firm of Kelley Drye & Warren in New York.

“It’s always better out than in custody,” he adds.

Aside from being able to sleep in your own bed, there are other advantages, note former prosecutors.

In some jails, phone and computer use is limited, if available at all. At his apartment, Strauss-Kahn is unlikely to have restrictions on the use of a phone or computer, says Michael Kendall, a former US attorney and a partner at McDermott Will & Emery in Boston.

When he was a prosecutor, Kendall says he would limit computer use when an individual had committed fraud on a computer or was involved in child pornography, neither of which are at issue here.

Home confinement makes it easier for him to meet with lawyers and prepare his defense, note criminal defense lawyers. “If there are a lot of documents that have to be reviewed, it makes it much more difficult to prepare a defense if the defendant is in jail,” says Mr. Mintz.

The price of (limited) freedom

For Strauss-Kahn, it will be an expensive time. He must pay for the in-home security guards, which will cost about $200,000 per month, says Assistant District Attorney John McConnell. Outside lawyers don’t expect the trial to begin for at least six to 12 months.

“When you are a man of means like Strauss-Kahn, you are willing to pay what it takes to get out of jail,” says Mintz., a former prosecutor.

House arrest comes with built-in frustrations. Strauss-Kahn will have to notify authorities before almost any trip out of the apartment.

“You have no choice, otherwise you will be remanded back into custody,” says Mr. Kaufman. “It’s all very artificial – but better than Rikers.”

In addition, the electric ankle monitor becomes annoying, his clients have told Mr. Twardy. These technological guards are increasingly common. According to a report by American Probation and Parole Association, around 200,000 electronic monitoring units were estimated to be in use in 2009 – more than 2.5 times as many as 10 years before.

“I’m told you become accustomed to it,” Twardy says. “And it’s better than the alternative.”

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