In The Dominique Strauss-Kahn Case, It’s The Accuser’s Credibility On Trial
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “Credibility” as: that quality in a witness which renders his/her evidence worthy of belief. Without question it is the credibility of the witnesses called to testify that will make or break a criminal case. Nowhere is this more evident than in the recent high profile case of People of the State of New York vs. Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Frankly, we cannot recall the last time the credibility of a witness has been more scrutinized at the beginning stages of a criminal case than that of alleged sex-abuse victim, Ms. Nafissatou Diallo.
To recap, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (or “DSK” for short), the president of the International Monetary Fund and a potential candidate for the presidency of France, was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing Ms. Nafissatou Diallo, a maid at a swank NYC hotel. At DSK’s arraignment the Manhattan DA’s Office touted the strength of their case and was successful in securing severe bail conditions including a million dollar bond, house arrest, armed security at DSK’s expense and a GPS monitoring bracelet. However, within days of the arraignment the case began to unravel. The conditions of DSK’s bail were modified, the DA’s office publicly doubted Ms. Diallo’s version of the events and it appeared the case was falling apart.
Why such a massive turn of events in such a short time? Because Diallo’s credibility was being viewed under a microscope by seasoned law enforcement agents and DSK’s defense team. Law enforcement did not like what they discovered — and DSK’s team began to salivate over the possibility of cross-examining Diallo.
In cases such as these the credibility of a victim or witness is evaluated on two levels. First, is the victim’s version of events on the day in question consistent, reliable and believable? Second, who is this person making these allegations? What is his or her background and are they someone who deserves to be believed? This is how a person’s level of credibility is determined. In Ms. Diallo’s case, she seems to have come up short on both prongs of the credibility test.
Ms. Diallo’s first problem and certainly the most important in the eyes of the prosecution is the fact that she has told several different versions of the events surrounding the alleged sex attack. Her story regarding what she was doing just prior to the attack and what she did immediately after the attack has changed. This includes whether she continued to clean rooms before reporting the attack or whether she immediately cried out. Additionally, Ms. Diallo’s version of events has differed regarding whether there was conversation between her and DSK before the alleged attack took place and, if so, what exactly was said. Facts like these are absolutely vital in moving forward in a prosecution of an alleged sex attack.
Ms. Diallo has not fared any better in prong two of the credibility test. Since making her accusations against DSK it has been discovered that Ms. Diallo lied on a government application regarding being the victim of a gang-rape in her home country. Additionally, it has been discovered that Ms. Diallo has lied on her tax returns regarding the amount of children she has in order to get a better return. Perhaps most telling however is the fact that Ms. Diallo was caught in a taped conversation telling an incarcerated acquaintance, “Don’t worry this guy has a lot of money, I know what I’m doing” –and has had what can only be described as a difficult time explaining the deposit and withdrawal of multiple $100,000.00 deposits in a bank account in her name.
Does all this mean that someone who cannot remember a minute by minute account of an alleged attack could not possibly have been the victim of such? Of course not! Does it mean that a person who has had indiscretions in the past, or who may be friends or acquaintances with “shady” people cannot be the victim of a serious crime? Of course it doesn’t! What it does mean however is that the combination of the two often creates difficult conundrums for prosecutors trying to prove these cases.
It is unclear what the future holds for the DSK sex-abuse case and for Ms. Diallo. As former prosecutors and current criminal defense attorneys, we are quite curious to see how the Manhattan DA’s Office is going to proceed. If they choose to dismiss the matter it will be because the Manhattan DA’s Office has made the determination that Ms. Diallo’s credibility is simply beyond repair. If the Office decides to go forth with the prosecution and the matter winds up before a jury, Ms. Diallo better be prepared to face scathing cross-examination by defense counsel. Cross examination regarding not only the day in question but about what appears to be her propensity to bend the truth.
This is a tough spot for a DA’s office that first touted the strength of the case and soon thereafter admitted publicly that the case was unraveling. Let’s face it, the world is watching on this one. Whatever is decided, it is Ms. Diallo’s credibility that will be at the heart of the decision.