As a former prosecutor, current veteran criminal defense attorney, adjunct law professor, with over 30 years of experience litigating cases, I felt compelled to write this article. It’s in response to all the misconceptions, lies, and ignorance surrounding the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial. Here’s four critical things you need to know:
1) IT’S NOT ABOUT ‘#TeamDepp’ AND/OR ‘#TeamHeard’
Most in the “Court of Public Opinion” have treated this trial as if they are picking their favorite sports team. They decided what side they are on and root for their pick with passion and zeal, often regardless of the facts and circumstances. They erroneously think that the jury will decide this trial the same way, deciding who they like better and then rewarding them with a favorable verdict. That’s not how this case will be resolved. Who the jury likes is not the issue that will determine the outcome. Likeability is always important to jury in a trial. However, they can actually despise Depp and/or Heard and/or both of them, yet still rule in their favor. The “#TeamDepp” and “TeamHeard” mentality is fine for the Court of Public opinion yet holds little legal weight in an actual court of law.
2) WHAT DEPP MUST PROVE TO WIN
Johnny Depp is alleging that Amber Heard defamed him when she had published her Washington Post op-ed piece on December 18, 2018. Because he’s a public figure, Johnny Depp must prove “actual malice.” That means that Depp must prove that when Heard published the piece, she knew what she wrote was false or it was a reckless disregard of the truth. While she didn’t mention Depp by name, she implied that he committed domestic and/or sexual abuse against her. So, essentially, Depp must prove that Heard lied when she alleged, by implication, that Depp abused her.
3) DEPP LIKELY LOSES EVEN IF HEARD IS MOSTLY LYING
Depp has an almost impossible task ahead of him. He has to prove that he never committed a single act act of domestic violence towards her and that she is lying about every allegation and of being a victim. Good luck with that. Even if she was found to be lying about 99% of the domestic acts she alleges, Depp still loses. If jurors find that 1% of what she alleges is true, and that even a single act of domestic violence occurred, then her article isn’t legally defamatory and thus, deserves constitutional protection. If jurors aren’t sure what to believe, Depp still loses. He only wins if he proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she lied and she was never a domestic violence victim. Believing that and proving it are two totally different things.
4) IF HE WINS, HE STILL LOSES
I’m still wondering why Depp and his attorneys ever chose to file this lawsuit. His attorney stated that it was to “clear his name.” While Depp’s unique and bizarre behavior on the witness stand may have caused him a slight short term spike in popularity on social media, he has done little to advance his case to the Hollywood executives that he should be returned to his role as a bankable franchise leading man. The trial has revealed behavior in which he engaged throughout his life, and during his relationship with Heard, that could accurately be described by many as “disturbing.” Most of us wouldn’t have known about those graphic and troubling details but for his decision to file this lawsuit. I’m not saying that I believe he’s committed a single act of domestic violence. That’s for the jury to decide. Also, I’m not saying that Heard’s behavior was any less disturbing. From a PR perspective, I think both of them lose long term. What we’ve seen is support for the old adage that “Nobody wins in war.”