Darragh Connell explains why OJ Simpson should be afforded the same right to due process as any citizen.
On the 5th of October 2008, Oranthal James Simpson was found guilty of kidnapping, false imprisonment and theft. The charges arose from an incident in a Las Vegas motel in which he was accused of partaking in an armed robbery of American football collectibles.
The unanimous verdict was delivered 13 years to the day since his acquittal for the murder of his wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman. Simpson’s lawyer, Yale Galanter, said that those extraordinary events of the four-month trial in 1995 played a crucial role in the conduct of this trial and the final deliberations of the jury. Whether this was the case or not will never be known but what was evident across the American media was a feeling that justice had at last been done.
The original murder trial of Simpson represented a landmark point in American legal history. Not since Nuremburg had such a high- profile trial been broadcast to a global audience. The level of drama and intrigue between the various characters on both defence and prosecution sides ensured viewing figures reached well into the millions.
Simpson’s talented lawyers, (nicknamed ‘The Dream Team’) exposed huge flaws in LAPD criminal procedure as well as systematic forensic dilatoriness. Credible evidence was produced showing that forensic samples had been deliberately manipulated in order to secure a conviction.
Ultimately, the mostly black jury found that the case against Simpson simply did not meet the standard of proof required. Some commentators believed that a flawed conviction would condone police misconduct to secure convictions. Most thought that the entire case had simply been bungled by the prosecution.
Simpson subsequently lost a civil suit taken by the families of the two victims. He was ordered to pay damages of $33 million. No jury was necessary for this trial and the level of proof required by the plaintiff was significantly lower than at the criminal trial.
Simpson has failed to honour this civil judgment and an attempt to raise funds through a book entitled If I did it failed to garner financial interest. His life over the last 13 years could thus be described as the undignified fall from grace of a one time American hero.
The recent armed robbery conviction of Simpson has provoked strong emotions in several of the figures involved in the infamous murder trial. The father of Ronald Goldman commented that he was “absolutely thrilled to see the potential that he could serve the rest of his life in jail where the scumbag belongs.”
Unsurprisingly, the fairness of the conviction has been queried by Simpson’s lawyers. They cite the fact that an FBI agent testified that the tape recordings of the motel confrontation could not be authenticated and were potentially altered before police arrested Simpson and his co-accused eight days after the incident. In the interim, the memorabilia dealer sold the recordings to media outlets for $210,000.
Justice, and the search for truth based solely on the facts presented should be the raison d’être for any jury
Secondly, issues exist about the credibility of the testimony of four of the co-accused who testified against Simpson. While these points will be raised in any appeal, the more serious concern is that they strike at the core of our criminal justice system.
The system of justice in existence in both America and Ireland is one predicated upon, and infused with, the concept of due process of law. This system is made up of numerous rights and obligations that ensure that the wheels of justice grind in a just manner affording every person a right to a fair trial.
A key element of this concept is that an accused should only be tried in relation to the crime alleged and not upon other past misconduct. There is a bar on “bad character” evidence being presented to prove current charges except in very limited circumstances.
Pre-trial publicity, as in the case of OJ Simpson, can prejudice a trial since an accused’s right to a fair trial is adjudged to be superior to the community’s right to prosecute a person. However, in America, as in this jurisdiction, prejudice on this basis is notoriously difficult to prove. It must be shown that the trial judge cannot avoid the unfairness by specifically directing the jury to ignore the publicity surrounding the case.
Furthermore, in both of OJ Simpson’s criminal trials, considerable media attention focused on the fact that Simpson has never taken the stand to vindicate his name. The theory goes that if he was truly innocent, he would have wanted to testify to that effect.
This fallacy fails to acknowledge that in criminal trials, the ultimate burden of proof lies on the prosecution who must prove that the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. No obligation is placed upon the accused to prove his innocence since one is presumed to be innocent of the crime in question.
This concept is no mere legal technicality but rather an important bulwark against totalitarianism. Arbitrary arrest, detention and summary trial are the hallmarks of a fascist State. Our rejection of such concepts is a firm indication of our status as a civilised land free from state tyranny. The presumption of innocence is an expression of a societal value judgment that people are essentially decent law-abiding members of the community until the contrary is proven in a court of law to a jury of one’s peers.
OJ Simpson may have committed the crimes alleged in that Las Vegas motel room. He, like every other citizen however, deserves the right to a fair trial. The media frenzy, focusing solely on justice as revenge for previous wrongs, serves neither Simpson nor society as a whole.
Revenge and retribution should find no support within the walls of the jury room. Justice and the search for truth based solely on the facts presented should be the raison d’être for any jury. One hopes that this was the case in what was likely to be Simpson’s last legal battle.