What Defense Lawyers Learned From The OJ Simpson Trial

Lessons from the O.J. Simpson Trial

Nearly twenty years after the O.J. Simpson murder trial, defense attorneys remain mindful of the lessons learned during that infamous ordeal. The Trial of the Century, after all, will probably affect the legal landscape in America for centuries to come.

The reason that defense lawyers still care about the Simpson case is because it was then and still remains the most publicized and closely followed legal proceeding in American history. This means that regular people -- folks who since then have or will one day become jurors, witnesses, victims, or defendants in subsequent criminal cases large and small -- have been more influenced by the Simpson trial than anything else in society when it comes to the criminal justice system.

Reasonable Doubt

At the heart of the Simpson jury's not-guilty verdict in 1994 was the issue of reasonable doubt. Even though it's a fundamental concept in the U.S. criminal justice system, most Americans didn't fully understand the extent to which the burden of proof is placed on the prosecution until the Simpson case.

Media coverage of and public opinion concerning the saga from the time Simpson was arrested and charged tended to strongly take the position that Simpson was extremely likely to be found guilty. As more evidence came to light, particularly DNA samples, it seemed almost unthinkable that the jury would acquit Simpson.

However, Simpson's attorneys strongly argued to the jurors, correctly, that they would be required to find the defendant guilty if and only if they arrived at that conclusion beyond any reasonable doubt. In other words, if the defense could create even a modicum of doubt in the mind of a juror, he or she was legally and morally obligated to find Simpson not guilty.

The highly paid, persuasive, and talented defense team successfully created at least some doubt in the minds of the jurors, even if the jury still suspected Simpson was guilty.

The lesson for criminal defense lawyers is that they don't have to prove that their clients are innocent, 
and they shouldn't even worry too much if defendants appear guilty. Instead, they should focus on creating just enough confusion and doubt to prevent the jurors from being able to convict.
Fame and Money
Defense attorneys also learned the value of fame and money from the O.J. Simpson trial.While some people might assume that a famous client might be difficult to defend, it's actually perhaps easier. For one thing, a well-liked famous client like Simpson was already known to all of the jurors, the media, and the public in general for his accomplishments as an athlete and entertainer. The defense team effectively exploited preexisting positive feelings toward Simpson to keep him humanized.Also, high-profile cases in general may be easier on defense attorneys than typical ones. The extra attention and the media circus that surrounded the Simpson case led to numerous delays and complications that allowed for more time to create reasonable doubt. Note that Simpson was found responsible for the murders in the lower-profile civil case that followed, and was also convicted on felony robbery charges stemming from an incident in 2008 (although his inability to afford a team of high-profile defense lawyers also probably provided the difference between his 1994 murder trial and the more recent one). All in all, having the trial televised definitely helped the defense team.

In terms of money, Simpson was able to afford seven talented, high-priced, and high-profile attorneys because he was obscenely wealthy. Together, the team had the knowledge and experience to devise a way to get him off. Compiling the best team that money can buy appears to be well worth it.Simpson's defense lawyers also learned that such a high-profile celebrity case was great for their careers going forward.
The Race Card

While most African Americans and other minority groups in the U.S. face a criminal justice system that is stacked against them, Simpson was able to use race and racism in his favor due to his wealth and celebrity, the high-profile nature of his case, and his talented defense team.

Fortunately for Simpson and his team, the Los Angeles Police Department detective who investigated the case, Mark Fuhrman, had a history of racism and was known to use the "n-word". Simpson's defense team wisely attacked Fuhrman's credibility and even suggested that he planted evidence against Simpson due to a racial bias. This certainly went a long way toward creating reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors. Whether or not Fuhrman did tamper with the evidence in any way, he would later plead "no contest" to felony perjury charges for his role in the Simpson case and was sentenced to probation and stripped of his right to serve in law enforcement ever again.

Criminal defense attorneys representing minorities have learned that it is wise to suggest that law enforcement officers related to their case were behaving in a prejudicial way due to racism, regardless of whether it can be proven fully.

Pete Wendt is a freelance writer from Austin, Texas who was interested in the O.J. Simpson trial. He contacted these criminal defense lawyers in Philadelphia for their opinion and information regarding the case. 

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