Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School - Green Background

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  • Power Massaquoi v. Republic of Liberia, Liberia, Supreme Court of Liberia, 2014.
    On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment that appellant, Power Massaquoi, was guilty of rape. The victim, an 11 year old girl, alleged that Mr. Massaquoi, 38, lured her into his room and nonconsensual sexual intercourse with her. The court affirmed the lower court’s admission in evidence of the testimony of the victim’s mother, Madam Rose Toe, who testified that she saw blood on the victim’s skirt and questioned the victim about the incident. The court held that the testimony fell under an exception to the hearsay rule because statements are generally admissible “to determine the trustworthiness and reliability of statements made by child victims of abuse.” In addition, the court affirmed the lower court’s admission in evidence of the expert testimony of a physician’s assistant. The court held that even though the physician’s assistant did not have a medical degree, he qualified as an expert because of his experience with and knowledge of victims of sexual violence. The court noted that social workers trained in these areas would qualify as expert witnesses.
  • Musa Solomon Fallah v. Republic of Liberia, Liberia, Supreme Court of Liberia, 2011.
    On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment that appellant, Musa Solomon Fallah, was guilty of rape. The victim, a nine year old girl, alleged that Mr. Fallah gagged and raped her. On appeal, Mr. Fallah contended that the testimony of the victim should be excluded from evidence because the testimony was conducted in camera. The victim testified in a closed room that allowed cross-examination by the defendant and visual access for jurors. The court held that the victim’s testimony was admissible, stating that if “a potential child victim witness would suffer ‘serious emotional distress’ and might just not be able to communicate within a reasonable fear free environment if put on the stand in the presence of the accused abuser to introduce courtroom testimony” then an in camera witness presentation is appropriate. Mr. Fallah’s constitutional right to confront his accuser was preserved because he was afforded opportunity to listen to testimony and cross-examine the witness. In addition, the court referenced U.S. law on in camera testimony, citing U.S. Supreme Court cases to support its decision. The court stated: “It is the rule of general application in our jurisdiction that unless expressly contrary by the laws in vogue, common law and usages of the courts of England and of the United States, other authoritative treaties, principles and rules set forth in case law and in Blackstone and Kent Commentaries, when applicable, are deemed as Liberian Laws.”
  • Nimely v. Paye et al., Liberia, Supreme Court of Liberia, 2011.
    On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s judgment that appellant, Wayee Nimely, was guilty of rape. The alleged victim, Grace Kanneh, alleged that Mr. Nimely had sex with her when she was 13 years old and he was 18 years old. She alleged that Mr. Nimely invited her to his room, gagged her, and had sexual intercourse with her. Her brother’s wife forced open Mr. Nimely’s door after Ms. Kanneh failed to answer her phone call. Ms. Kanneh’s brother then called the police. Mr. Nimely admitted to police that he and Ms. Kanneh had sex. Because consent is not a defense under Liberian statutory rape law, Mr. Nimely was found guilty. The court reversed his conviction, however, as the trial court relied on inaccurate information in determining Mr. Nimely’s age. Mr. Nimely testified that he was 17 years old at the time of the alleged rape. Documents such as a passport or birth certificate were unavailable. The court held that in the absence of any rebuttal evidence by the prosecution, the court must accept that Mr. Nimely was 17 years old and therefore a juvenile when he had sex with Ms. Kanneh. Under Liberian law, a juvenile cannot commit a crime. Because Mr. Nimely was tried as an adult, his conviction was reversed and he was remanded to the custody of his parents until the age of 21.
  • Allen Rogers v. Republic of Liberia, Liberia, Supreme Court of Liberia, 2009.
    On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s judgment that appellant, Allen Rogers, was guilty of rape. The alleged victim, 11 year old Mother Korhorn, alleged that Mr. Rogers kidnapped her and another boy for two months, raping her daily during this time period. Ms. Korhorn testified that Mr. Rogers threatened to kill her if she talked about the rape. In his defense, Mr. Rogers testified that the week before the alleged kidnapping occurred, he knelt down to pray and heard the voice of someone he called Evee. Evee told him “your two children have come.” He then met Ms. Korhorn and the other child. He took them to the town advisor, who said that Mr. Rogers could keep them at his house. Mr. Rogers was found guilty of statutory rape and given the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The court reversed the conviction because Mr. Rogers did not receive adequate representation. His representation was inadequate because the public defender assigned to his case failed to call corroborating witnesses and counsel “knew, or ought to have known that the lone testimony of the appellant was not sufficient to establish his innocence. Thus, his failure to have ensured that other witness[es] appear to testify for the appellant was a serious dereliction of duty.” In Liberia, “the uncorroborated testimony of the accused person is not sufficient to rebut proof of guilt.” Therefore the court reversed Mr. Roger’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.
  • Living Counsellor et al. v. Republic of Liberia, Liberia, Supreme Court of Liberia, 2008.
    On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s judgment that appellants, Living Counsellor, Wisdom Counsellor, and Righteous Counselor, were guilty of rape. Their four female victims ranged from ages 7 to 12. The victims were introduced into the Kingdom Assembly Church of Africa, or the “Never Die Church,” so named because it promised followers eternal life on earth. It also promoted free sexual relations among its members. The victims testified that they were beaten and raped by members of the church. The court stated that “the evidence adduced during the trial show that rape is institutionalized in the Never Die Church. The testimonies given by the prosecution witnesses also points to a situation where the victims were living in a condition of servitude almost identical to slavery.” The appellants argued that “they did not rape the girls but that they only share love with their sisters because they have no earthly mother or father but only Wonderful Counsellor.” They argued that their conviction should be overturned because they were also charged with gang rape, but the trial judge failed to instruct the jury on that charge. Still, their conviction was upheld because they were convicted of rape nonetheless.
  • Georgia Cole v. Ella Dixon et al., Liberia, Supreme Court of Liberia, 1938.
    This case established that a wife’s dower is not an asset of her husband’s estate. After Mr. Dixon died intestate, his widow claimed that she held title to real property that had been conveyed to her as a deed of gift from her husband. The executor, appointed by the county, argued that the property was an asset of the estate because the right of dower accrues only after the death of the husband. The court disagreed, holding that “[the] inchoate right of dower is so vested in the wife as against the husband immediately on the marriage that no conveyance or act of the husband can deprive her of it,” including any creditors’ claims against the husband.
  • Leah Williams v. Manson Wynn, Liberia, Supreme Court of Liberia, 1914.
    This case established a precedent for property rights of a widow when her husband dies intestate. On appeal, the Supreme Court excluded from probate ten acres of land to which Ms. Williams claimed title. Ms. Williams’ husband died intestate and the executor of his estate, appointed by the Probate Court, included all real and personal property from the marriage in determining the assets of the estate. Ms. Williams claimed that she held title to ten acres of property that her husband had purchased through a third party, with title vesting in the wife. The executor argued, and the trial court held, that all property acquired through the husband could be made liable for his debts. The trial court relied upon the Constitution of Liberia, which states “The property of which a woman may be possessed at the time of her marriage and also that of which she may afterwards become possessed, otherwise than by her husband shall not be held responsible for his debts.” The court reasoned that this clause implied that property acquired through her husband could be held liable for his debts. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that if a husband acquires property in the name of a third party, who becomes the medium through which title vests in the wife, the wife has an absolute right in that property and is not liable for the claims of the husband’s creditors. The court failed to apply this holding to personal property of the marriage, however, stating that personal property procured and owned by the deceased for the common use of the household is an asset of the estate.
  • Dlyon v. Lambert et al., Liberia, Supreme Court of Liberia, 1884.
    This early case established the precedent that a married woman may own and convey property independent of her husband. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision denying ownership of a half-acre of land. Ms. Dlyon bought the property from a sheriff’s auction after it was repossessed for the payment of the owner’s debts. The Lamberts argued both that the previous possessor of the land never gained title of the property because he failed to obtain a fee simple deed so could not be used to pay his debts, and that even if he did have title, a married woman could not purchase land. On the first point, the court held that while the previous possessor did not have perfect title to the land, it could still be reached by creditors. On the second point, the court unambiguously declared that Ms. Dlyon had the right to purchase the property: “Under the Constitution, a femme couverte [married woman] may convey property she is possessed of otherwise than through her husband and this fact admits the inference that she may also bargain and buy property independent of her husband.”