After watching The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, which debuted on FX and become a nationwide hit, I was reminded about some important lessons from the O.J. Simpson trial. For a lawyer, this case presents a fascinating study on criminal defense, civil rights, law enforcement procedure, and the important role that media and public perception can play in determining the guilt or innocence of citizens accused of crimes.
Whether you believe in O.J.’s guilt or innocence is largely irrelevant now. After all, ironically, O.J. is now back in prison spending some 15 plus years behind bars for an armed robbery attempt to recoup his prized Heisman trophy. Here are some important lessons Men can learn from the O.J. Simpson trial and its aftermath:
- Do not flee a potential crime scene. Remember the famous white Ford Bronco chase scene down the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles? Resisting arrest or fleeing a crime scene is a chargeable offense. Also, it is surely going to be used against you if you are a suspect in a crime to demonstrate your motive and intent.
- Domestic violence allegations. DV complaints by Nicole Smith were the reason why the district attorney’s office targeted O.J. as the first suspect in the double homicide. Remember the 911 recording by Nicole Smith which featured prominently in the DA’s case? If you are accused of domestic violence by a spouse or dating partner, if anything ever happens to that person, you can be sure that you will be a suspect in any future criminal proceedings. Avoid getting yourself into any domestic violence situation. You will have a target on your back.
- Hire the best lawyers you can afford. It is undisputed that OJ’s defense team was simply brilliant. They turned what looked like a slam dunk case for the DA into an indictment on law enforcement procedure, racist cops, and a failure of proof. If you are accused of a crime, having the right lawyer who not only understands the law, but also appreciates the political climate that your case is operating in is indispensable for the best defense. Knowing the law is only half the equation. But understanding your opponent, the judge and public opinion is crucial to winning a case.
- Use the Media. Most of us are not public figures, but in O.J.’s case, using the media to sway public opinion and turn the case into an issue of race conflict in LA, worked masterfully for the defense team. Even if you are not a public figure, your case may have important public or civil rights concerns. As a criminal defendant you may be forced to remain silent until you decide whether you will testify at trial. That puts you at a huge disadvantage in a criminal proceeding. However, if the media takes an interest in your case, you may be able to have the media do the talking for you. And you may be able to get ahead of any negative publicity before you your case is reported on by the victim or victim’s advocacy groups. But don’t contact the media on your own, you will need the help of an experienced lawyer who knows how to use the media to your advantage and put pressure on the DA’s office to drop the charges or give you a better plea deal.
- Avoid Civil Litigation. Even though O.J. won the criminal case, he lost a very expensive civil lawsuit, incurring a judgment of nearly $35 million. If you are accused of a crime like assault, battery, rape, or domestic violence, you may also face civil penalties if your accuser decides they wants to pursue monetary damages which can run into the tens of millions if they tack on on “emotional distress” and punitive damages claims. If you are concerned with civil litigation, you may want to take some steps to to protect yourself. I will write more about this in future posts.
- Stay out of Trouble. One of the greatest tragedies of the O.J. Simpson aftermath is that O.J. landed himself in prison for a much lesser offense, after having been acquitted of a double homicide. If you are lucky enough to have gotten off the hook in any criminal proceeding, you need to keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble. The penalties if you are charged and convicted a second time will certainly be harsher.
The O.J. Simpson case has taught us some important lessons. Let’s not forget them.