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Thursday, May 15, 2014

The O.J. Simpson Case

The O.J. Simpson Case    
 Can something both work, and not work? For a simple object like a toaster, the answer is obvious; you get toast, or you don't get toast. For a complex system, such as the American justice system, the answer is not always so easy. In the murder case of O.J. Simpson, we are going to look at how justice was served, and how justice was not served, in a contest of community interests and justice system agencies. The Simpson case was influenced by race, celebrity, media coverage, and a failed prosecution. Not only did these influences affect the Simpson case, they affected the criminal justice as a whole as a result of the case.
      How much influence did the issue of race have on the case? Was Simpson arrested because he was black? The answer to the second question is not likely; police had been to the Simpson residence 8 times on domestic violence calls, and had not arrested him in a single one of those incidents (Wikipedia, 2014, para.46). However, there is a myth that the husband is most likely to be the murderer when a wife is killed, even though this myth is incorrect, leading to the question, “should a spouse always be the first 'prime suspect'”? (The Hanged Juror, 2009). In this case, Simpson would be a likely suspect due to this myth. Racism did have it's influence, regardless; Detective Fuhrman denied using the racially abusive and offensive term, “nigger” under oath, not only perjuring himself, but giving the defense the opportunity to play audio of Fuhrman using that word 46 times to a majority black jury. Fuhrman may have planted evidence, which would have required the cooperation of other police who had hitherto failed to arrest Simpson when presented the opportunity, but he certainly planted racism during the trial. Was the verdict based on racism as opposed to evidence? We will see in a moment how the evidence was flawed as we discuss the ineptness of the prosecution, and we have no evidence that specific members of the jury made their decision on that basis, yet the question remains...Kerman Maddox, an LA community activist states that “I think a lot of people in the black community thought absolutely it [the verdict] was payback.” (Frontline, 2005, para.33)
      Why did police ignore 8 cases of domestic violence? Why was Simpson given the opportunity to turn himself in instead of police serving him with a warrant? Why was Simpson given opportunities to avoid arrest that other members of society aren't provided with? The answer is celebrity. There are the examples of entertainers like Lindsey Lohan and Justin Beiber who commit crime and receive preferential treatment in their punishment. The counter argument can be made that the criminal justice system is lenient in the majority of cases as a whole, and that it seems that celebrities are “getting away with it” due to the center-of-attention focus on all aspects of celebration's lives.
      And who provides celebrity status? The media. Indeed, even the judge in the case seemed to bask in the glow of media attention. Rosenberg of the LA Times wrote an article regarding Ito's relationship with the media, “Judge Ito Feeds the Hand He's Bitten”, in which he contrasted Ito's behavior during the trial to Ito's previous opinion of the media on high profile cases as “shabby, sensational, tabloidesque coverage” (1994, para. 1). Dershowitz bemoans the rise of the media talking heads, “The one downside of the O.J. Simpson case is the proliferation of talking heads on television. The lawyers who are put on television to explain the cases, who nobody would ever hire to be a real lawyer...” (Frontline, 2005, para. 8)
      “The prosecution of OJ Simpson was the most incompetent criminal prosecution I have ever seen.”, stated Vincent Bugliosi, a noted L.A. prosecutor (2008, p.113). A short list of the prosecution's errors first includes the glove incident, in which the prosecution had decided not to ask Simpson to wear it due to possible shrinkage due to blood, and then reversed that decision in trial, to have him try the glove on...over another glove. There was mishandling of both prosecution and defense witnesses. Witnesses for the prosecution were allowed to sell their stories to the media, thus tainting their testimony. There were questions about Marcia Clark's strategic decisions for jury selection. Finally, the evidence that the prosecution relied on as the basis of their case, the DNA evidence linking Simpson to the scene of the crime, was tainted by chain-of-custody issues. Although there has been a tendency in the criminal justice system to mishandle DNA evidence, for the prosecution in this case to rely so heavily on this evidence, and then not taking responsibility for it's purity, is shocking.
      Another issue regarding the way that the criminal justice system handled the case was in the cost of the case. However, high publicity cases usually are expensive. Running an actual trial is expensive in the first place, which is why plea bargaining is often used (which is a detriment to the criminal justice system on it's own). Most expenses are for jury sequestration, sheriff's overtime, and the DA's overtime. It is interesting to note that not just the trial of a celebrity is so expensive, but any high profile crime can cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.
Year (ended)
Cost of Trial
The McMartin Preschool molestation case
$13.2 million.
Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. The Night Stalker
$1.8 million.
(figures obtained from The Christian Science Monitor,1995)

      What were the ramifications of the case for the criminal justice system? It forced many criminal justice agencies to re-examine they way that evidence was handled, at the officers they were employing, and to take another look at domestic violence. It proved that the system worked, because the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Simpson committed the murder; that burden of proof is what the system depends on to maintain it's integrity and the public trust. It also proved that the system didn't work, in that a perception that a rich celebrity could buy “innocence”. Finally, it caused new laws to be enacted to change the way that the criminal justice system worked.
“The legislature reacted to the public outcry over the verdict by changing the evidence code so that evidence that was kept out of the O.J. trial would be admitted in future trials. They enacted new hearsay exceptions. They enacted new rules with respect to domestic violence cases now that let everything in; all prior incidents are now going to be admissible” ...Gerald Uelmen, quoted in Frontline (2005, para.36)

Bugliosi, V. (2008). Outrage: The five reasons why O. J. Simpson got away with murder. W. W. Norton & Company
Dollars and Sense of the Simpson Trial. (1995). The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved February 16, 2014 from http://www.csmonitor.com/1995/0516/16041.html/%28page%29/2

Rosenberg, H. (1994, November 16). Judge Ito feeds the hand he's bitten. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 17 from http://articles.latimes.com/1994-11-16/entertainment/ca-63439_1_judge-ito
Should a spouse always be the first “prime suspect”?. (2009, March 27).The Hanged Juror. Retrieved February 16, 2014 from http://blog.thejurorinvestigates.com/2009/03/27/should-a-spouse-always-be-the-first-ldquoprime-suspectrdquo.aspx
The O.J. Verdict: The Trial's Significance And Lasting Impact. (2005, October 4). Frontline. Retrieved February 16, 2014 from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/impact.html
Wikipedia. (2014). O. J. Simpson murder case. Retrieved February 16, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O._J._Simpson_murder_case

1 comment:

  1. http://www.policeone.com/investigations/articles/152527006-Knife-found-on-OJ-Simpson-property-being-tested-by-LAPD

    Knife found on OJ Simpson property being tested by LAPD

    Two points:
    1- Double Jeopardy
    2- Break in chain of custody