The Depp-Heard jury faces a difficult task in arriving at a verdict


The Depp-Heard jury faces a difficult task in arriving at a verdict

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After leaving the Fairfax County Courthouse on Friday afternoon, Johnny Depp headed to England, where he was seen trading guitar licks with Jeff Beck this weekend. The jury in the trial between Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard deliberated for several hours and then said they would return on Tuesday to further try to reach a verdict in the complicated, often unseemly dispute between the two movie stars.

Although the jury’s identities will remain sealed for a year, given the high-profile nature of the case, multiple media outlets have reported on the jury’s demographics from inside the courtroom. It’s not clear how the outlets determined the breeds or other details of the judges, other than a simple observation. Corresponding court television, the jury consists of five men and two women, with another woman and another man acting as deputies; They appear to be between 20 and 60 years old.

They don’t seem to know much about the case before they were selected — during jury selection, only about a dozen potential jurors said they had knowledge of Depp and Heard’s controversial relationship — and the task before them isn’t particularly easy.

“One challenge they are likely to face is to focus on the case at hand without allowing all of their own lived experiences and prejudices to lead them to a hasty judgment that is not supported by the testimony. The jury’s instructions are very specific to help the jury focus on a legal matter, but this is a real human challenge,” said Jamie R. Abrams, law professor at the University of Louisville. “The gender distribution of the jury makes that even more interesting.”

FAQ: What you should know when the jury is deciding a verdict in the Depp Heard trial

The jury will attempt to decide on two claims. Depp filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against Heard for publishing an op-ed in The Washington Post in 2018 in which she described herself as a public figure who advocates domestic violence. Although he is not named in the play, he says it hurt his career.

For his allegation, the jury weighed seven questions, primarily whether Heard made or published three separate statements in the comment, including the caption; if they imply or imply anything about Depp; and if so, whether they were done wrongly and/or with actual malice.

The jury will also rule on Heard’s $100 million counterclaim: That three statements made to the media by Depp’s attorney, Adam Waldman, hurt her reputation and career by dismissing her allegations as false. The jury must decide six questions, including whether Waldman made the statements while acting on Depp’s behalf and whether they were false and/or made with actual malice.

“The jury will not just rule this case under the law,” said Jill Huntley Taylor, a legal analyst who owns Taylor Trial Consulting. “No matter how complicated the case, the jury will simplify it enough for them to understand.”

While Taylor believes the jury will focus on actual legal claims, they will also likely (consciously or unconsciously) make some of their decisions about who they find both credible and likable. That’s even more likely given that Heard’s team “turned a defamation case into an abuse case,” which could unsettle the jury.

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

And as Abrams noted, while they shouldn’t read about the case or be swayed in any way, they’re only human — and they probably know how much media attention the case has garnered, which could add to the pressure they’re feeling to make it right “Even though they have been banned from social media access and media coverage, just the excitement in the courthouse is enough for them to understand that the world is watching,” she said.

What complicates matters further is determining actual damages if the jury decides that someone is entitled to those damages. “In a libel case based on public speaking like this, where the main harms are emotional distress and damage to professional reputation – which could result, for example, in the loss of unknown future film roles – the harms are obviously difficult to determine, and largely at the discretion of the jury .” said UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.

Abrams also wonders if Friday’s closing arguments — in which both sides seemed to tap “beyond this process onto the strands of what’s at stake” — might have confused the jury.

“Although my focus as a scholar and professor is very much on the damage this case is wreaking on our legal and social systems, it does not seem relevant or helpful to me that the attorneys with the jury respond to this overall account after six weeks of tedious and tedious testimony “, she said. “From these threads I think we can see that these attorneys are speaking to the jury but also to the public.”

She referenced the plaintiff’s suggestion to the jury that Heard “is either a victim of some really horrendous abuse or a woman who is willing to say absolutely anything.” What could make for a catchy media soundbite, she said, does not necessarily sell a jury.

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

Depp “pursued the lawsuit in part because” it was the only time I [Depp] could speak and use my own voice.’ His wish was ‘total global humiliation,’ and he has already achieved that,” journalist Kenzie Bryant wrote in a Vanity Fair article about the trial.

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 untold abuse online and experience what by both accounts was a toxic marriage for many more years than that relationship lasted. If they decide that Heard defamed Depp with actual malice and caused the harm he alleges, then Depp would get money in addition to the satisfaction.”

Emily Yahr contributed to this report.

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