Depp-Heard jurors face a difficult task to reach verdicts

Depp-Heard jurors face a difficult task to reach verdicts

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After Johnny Depp left the Fairfax County Courthouse on Friday afternoon, he traveled to England, where he was seen trading guitar blows with Jeff Beck over the weekend. The jury in the trial between Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard deliberated for a few hours, then said they would return on Tuesday to continue trying to reach a verdict in the complicated and often unseemly dispute between the two movie stars. .

Although the identities of the jurors will remain sealed for a year, given the high-profile nature of the case, multiple outlets have reported on the demographics of the jury from inside the courtroom. It’s unclear how the media determined the jurors’ races or other details, other than mere observation. According Court Television, the jury is made up of five men and two women, with one other woman and another man serving as alternates; they seem to be between 20 and 60 years old.

They probably didn’t know much about the case before they were selected — during jury selection, only a dozen would-be jurors claimed knowledge of the contentious relationship between Depp and Heard — and the task facing them. waiting is not particularly easy.

“One of the challenges they likely face is staying focused on the case at hand without allowing all of their own lived experiences and biases to lead them to a quick judgment that is not supported by the testimony. Jury instructions are very concrete to help jurors focus on a legal issue, but it’s a real human challenge,” said Jamie R. Abrams, a law professor at the University of Louisville. The gender breakdown of the jury makes this even more interesting.”

FAQ: What to know when the jury deliberates a verdict in the Depp-Heard trial

The jury will attempt to decide on two applications. Depp filed a $50 million libel suit against Heard for publishing a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post in which she called herself a public figure representing domestic violence. Although he is not named in the piece, he says it hurt his career.

For its claim, the jury weighs seven questions, including whether Heard made or published three separate statements in the editorial, including the headline; whether they imply or insinuate anything about Depp; and if so, whether they were false and/or made with real malice.

The jury is also deciding on Heard’s $100 million counterclaim: that three statements made to the media by an attorney working for Depp, Adam Waldman, damaged his reputation and career by dismissing his allegations as false. To do so, the jury must decide six questions, including whether Waldman, while acting on Depp’s behalf, made the statements, and whether they were false and/or made with actual malice.

“The jurors will decide this case on more than the law,” said Jill Huntley Taylor, legal analyst owner of Taylor Trial Consulting. “No matter how complex the case, jurors will simplify it to the point of understanding it.”

While Taylor thinks jurors will focus on actual legal claims, they’ll likely (knowingly or unknowingly) also partially render their decision on those they find both credible and sympathetic. It’s all the more likely that Heard’s team “turned a defamation case into an abuse case,” which could cloud the jury’s issues.

“The crux of this case could have been the editorial, but it’s not,” Taylor said. It’s “whether there was abuse or no abuse”.

And, as Abrams noted, while they’re not supposed to read the case or be influenced in any way, they’re just humans – and they probably know how much the case drew media attention, which could increase the pressure they feel. to do things well. “Despite being barred from social media and media coverage, the frenzy at the courthouse alone is enough for them to understand that the world is watching them,” she said.

Complicating matters further is how to determine actual damages, if the jury decides someone is owed them. “In a defamation case based on public discourse like this, where the main damages are damages of emotional distress and damage to professional reputation – which could lead to the loss of future unknown film roles, for example – the damages are obviously difficult to determine, and largely at the discretion of the jury. said Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

Abrams also wonders whether Friday’s closing arguments — in which both sides seemed to be “dipping into the strands of ‘what’s at stake’ beyond this particular trial” — may have confused the jury.

“While I am very focused on the harm this case is causing to our legal and social systems as a scholar and professor, I do not find it relevant or helpful for lawyers to tap into this larger narrative with the jury. .after six weeks of tedious and grueling testimony,” she said. “From these threads, I think we can see that these attorneys are addressing the jury, but also the public.

She pointed to the plaintiff’s suggestion to the jury that Heard is “either a victim of truly horrific abuse or a woman who is willing to say absolutely anything.” What could make a catchy media clip, she said, does not necessarily sell a jury.

Many argued that the verdict itself didn’t really matter — that Depp never cared about winning the trial, only telling his story publicly.

Depp “continued the lawsuit in part because, ‘It was the only time I [Depp] was able to speak and use my own voice. His desire was “total world humiliation,” and in that he has already succeeded,” journalist Kenzie Bryant wrote in a Vanity Fair article about the lawsuit.

The decision, Bryant wrote, will be “almost superficial. If they decide Heard didn’t defame her ex-husband, she loses, because she had to be here, forced to endure countless online abuses and relive what was, by both accounts, a toxic marriage for many years longer than the relationship lasted. If they decide that Heard defamed Depp with actual malice and caused the damages he claims, then Depp would receive money in addition to the satisfaction.

Emily Yahr contributed to this report.

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