You may recall that I’ve been very interested in the O.J. Simpson case, recently a ten part series known as “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” The series has increased my curiosity and caused me to reflect on the case for the first time in a long while. In a recent blog, I spoke about the differences of that case, perhaps the biggest criminal case of the 20th century, in comparison to the civil cases that I handle. I mentioned that the standard for winning is different for the two kinds of cases. In civil cases, the preponderance of the evidence is the necessary burden to reach; in criminal cases, courts use the reasonable doubt standard. The prosecution bears the burden of proof in a criminal case. In contrast, in a civil case, the plaintiff has the burden. A civil case requires ten out of twelve jurors to agree but to convict in a criminal case there needs to be unanimity i.e. twelve out of twelve.
With that in mind, let’s return to the specifics of the Simpson case. People were shocked that the jury deliberated on that case for only one day. Of course, many were also shocked at the verdict of acquittal. When I heard on that first night that the jury had reached a decision, I must say that I fully expected an acquittal. (The verdict was not released until the next day so everyone had a night to speculate.) What had the jury decided? Why was the decision rendered after only a day of deliberations for a ten month trial. Furthermore, what was the significance of the jury asking to hear of the limo driver’s testimony, a seemingly helpful bit of testimony for the prosecution. Didn’t all this imply that there would be a conviction? Forgive the immodesty, but I, on the other hand, felt that I had a pretty good sense of what that verdict would be. I absolutely expected an acquittal, a not guilty verdict. That decision, you may recall, shocked people.
Let me tell you why I felt that there would be an acquittal. The first is psychological. For a jury to convict a major celebrity, and one who had such a favorable persona no less, would have taken a much longer time than a matter of just a couple of hours. The jury would really have to sit and think about what was going on and really come to terms with what they would do. The scenario calling for a conviction of a likeable, or at least once likeable celebrity, of a double homicide would be a major emotional undertaking. Chances are that a jury would have trouble coming to terms with a conviction so readily.
Let’s turn now to the seemingly curious fact that the jury asked to hear Allan Park’s testimony in their short period of deliberations. Those who followed the case will recall that his testimony was significant for two reasons. The first was that when he pulled up in his limousine that evening to take O.J. Simpson to the airport, he did not see a Bronco parked on the street. In fact, he drove around the street three times, never seeing the Bronco. However, as he left the property that night, the Bronco was there. Of course the implication is that Simpson had come home in the period in which Park was at the house. The other thing that Park testified was that he saw a figure roughly the same size as Simpson walking across the lawn of the Simpson property. Well, those two things would be rather incriminating suggesting as they did that Simpson had arrived at his home toward the late evening, contrary to his alibi that he was sleeping and then showering in the house.
So why would a jury, a jury that the next day would have an acquittal announced, want to hear such seemingly damning testimony from Mr. Park? It has to do with their desire to hear what they felt was the best evidence for the prosecution. By hearing it, they could have the opportunity to debunk it. If they were not convinced by that transcript, by that testimony, then they could feel on solid ground to vote for acquittal.
The relevance of this to civil cases is that the eyewitness testimony of Park was something far more to reckon with and far more significant to them than blood evidence/DNA evidence. Blood evidence/DNA evidence is very dry and uninspiring. Eye witness testimony, on the other hand, is something that resonates, whether it works for the side who is presenting it or it does not. It is a factor that gets more weight in my opinion than certain physical evidence or scientific evidence.
The trial of the century has lessons for us in the civil field, the area of law that includes my specialty of personal injury. Its implications will be felt for much of this century.
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