One of the most popular and televised trials of the century concluded this week with a jury finding in favor of Johnny Depp in a defamation lawsuit levied against his ex-wife, Amber Heard.
The allegation was that Ms. Heard defamed Mr. Depp when she published an article detailing her experience as a victim of domestic abuse. Depp sued Heard for damages, claiming that the information contained in the article was false and that her allegations caused him to lose earnings and damage his reputation. As part of a presentation by Depp’s attorneys, multiple episodes from the couple’s tenuous relationship were put on display for the nation.
Many of these incidents involved acts that are criminal in nature, posing the question: why wasn’t Ms. Heard criminally charged? To understand the answer to that question, you need to first understand the difference between criminal and civil cases.
Criminal cases can only be brought by the government against individuals charged with crimes designated by various legislatures. Only criminal courts have the power to take away rights: for example, a civil court cannot put you in prison.
Civil courts, on the other hand, are primarily concerned with disputes involving money. For Ms. Heard to be prosecuted criminally, Mr. Depp would have had to contact law enforcement and press criminal charges.
After individuals make incriminating statements in a civil case, the state technically does have the option to press charges. So, in Heard’s case, why didn’t they?
First, a Defendant has a right under the sixth amendment of the United States constitution to question their accuser, a feat that would be difficult at trial if Mr. Depp refused to cooperate with Law Enforcement. Second, many of the allegations occurred outside of the United States. For the most part, the United States government does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed in other countries.
It’s also important to discuss this case in terms of domestic violence and the legal system. The burden of proof in a civil case is dramatically different than in a criminal case. “Burden of proof” means how strong the evidence must be, or rather, how much a jury is convinced of someone’s guilt or liability.
In a criminal case, the burden of proof is the prosecution’s to bear, and they must convince a jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty of the crimes charged. In a civil case, however, the burden is only what is termed “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This beautifully clear phrase essentially means that the jury must be convinced only that a person is “more likely than not” liable. Another way to say it is that the evidence for one side must simply outweigh the evidence for another.
Another difference between what this case would have been in a criminal case is the number of incidents in consideration. Criminal cases are typically limited to what is designated as one criminal episode, referring to a set period of time in which the crimes were committed, generally being a few hours or maybe a few days at maximum. The Heard trial evaluated possible incidents committed over the time period of a few years. Not only did this extend the length of the trial, but it also put less emphasis on the occurrence of individual allegations of abuse and a greater emphasis on the overarching dynamic between Heard and Depp.
There were also a fair number of hearsay objections in this trial. Hearsay is defined as an out-of-court statement offered for the truth of the matter asserted. Hearsay is presumed inadmissible unless the judge is convinced that a legal exception applies. Significant portions of Mr. Depp’s testimony referred to things that he had been told by other people. Most of these statements were hearsay, and so Heard’s lawyers spent time objecting to the questions, and Depp’s lawyers had to provide the court with exceptions to admit the statements. At one point in Depp’s cross-examination, Heard’s lawyer asked a question about Depp’s knowledge on a topic that required Depp to rely on an out-of-court statement he had been told. Once the crossing attorney realized his mistake, he objected to his own question, which was overruled.
Understanding how and when conduct you admit to can be used against you by the government or by people who might sue you is extremely complicated.
I never recommend that someone, no matter how intelligent, try to evaluate whether what they admit to can hurt them. Before you admit to anything, it is best to seek legal advice. Although I cannot help in civil matters, if you are facing criminal charges and need help, call Krizman Law today.
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If you are in Colorado and have been charged with a crime, contact Krizman Law TODAY for a confidential review of your legal case.
Mr. Krizman is a criminal defense attorney in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in providing relentless defense for domestic violence, DUI, and drug crimes. He is a former public defender who has also worked for a district attorney and is licensed in the State of Colorado, and the United States Federal Court, District of Colorado. Mr. Krizman is a member of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, Colorado Bar Association, Denver Bar Association, and Arapahoe County Bar Association. A Colorado native, he has a law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and a bachelor’s degree in Government and World Affairs from the University of Tampa. Call him today at 720.819.7317.