Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard Defamation Trial, Explained
Johnny Depp’s and Amber Heard’s highly public defamation case concluded on June 1, 2022, but new evidence that the wrong juror was seated in one of the spots on the case’s jury has thrown the verdict into question. Depp’s and Heard’s case stems from an op-ed that Heard wrote for the Washington Post in 2018, in which she identified as a survivor of domestic abuse. Depp was not named in the article. However, many assumed that the article was about him.
As result, U.K. publication The Sun published an article calling Depp a “wife-beater,” and he was subsequently dropped from the Pirates of the Caribbean and Fantastic Beasts franchises. Depp sued The Sun for libel in 2020, but the jury rejected Depp’s claims, finding that Heard’s claims of abuse were substantially true. As a result, Depp then sued Heard for defamation over her op-ed in the U.S. He sued Heard for $50 million, claiming her op-ed had damaged his career and reputation and caused him substantial financial loss. He also alleged that she had not only lied about the abuse, but was, in fact, the abuser in the relationship. Heard countersued for $100 million, alleging he had defamed her by calling her allegations a hoax.
The trial began on April 11, 2022, and sparked a social media storm. The media and public took a keen interest in the televised case and was noticeably biased towards Heard, launching a smear campaign against her. Ultimately, the juror ruled in both Depp’s and Heard’s favor, though Heard was found liable in three matters of defamation, and Depp only in one matter. Depp was awarded $15 million and Heard $2 million. Heard has indicated intentions to appeal the case, and has also called into question whether she truly got a fair trial, given the media influence. Additional information about a judicial error now has Heard’s team calling for a mistrial.
What is a mistrial?
Put simply, a mistrial occurs when a trial is inconclusive and rendered invalid. This most frequently occurs for two reasons: 1) a serious error in proceedings rendered the trial invalid, or 2) the jury could not agree on a verdict and the trial is ruled inconclusive. When a mistrial occurs, it means the defendant is neither guilty nor acquitted. Because the defendant isn’t explicitly ruled not guilty in the case of a mistrial, the case can be retried.
A deadlocked jury is a common reason for a mistrial, but there are actually numerous other instances where it can occur. A mistrial can occur if there is any misconduct on the part of the jury or an attorney, if the jury heard a comment or misinformation that would prevent them continuing a fair trial, or if a key participant in the trial is unavailable. Basically, any kind of misconduct or procedural errors that can cause an unfair trial can result in the trial being halted and remaining incomplete.
Why is Heard’s team calling for a mistrial?
On July 8th, 2022, Heard’s team filed a motion requesting a mistrial and claimed that Heard’s right to due process had been compromised. The reason for the filing is that evidence has arisen that one of the jurors seated in the trial was the wrong person. Juror No. 15 was not summoned for the case and was not the same individual listed on the jury panel.
According to the filing, a court summons was sent to a residence in Virginia in which two individuals who shared the same last name resided. The residents were a 52-year-old and a 77-year-old. The court summons was for the 77-year-old, but it appears the 52-year-old showed up for jury duty instead. The 52-year-old sat for the entirety of the trial, despite never being summoned and not being on the jury list. Additionally, it appears the individual was either never asked to show an ID, or had a fake ID. The individual also filled out the required online information claiming their birth year was 1945, though it is unclear if this was accidental or intentional.
Heard’s defense team implied that they were unaware of the juror discrepancy at the time. Now that it has come to light, they want answers. Not only that, but Heard’s team would like a mistrial. They claim that trial was unfair when Heard could not even rely on the fact that the jurors on the trial were individuals who had actually been summoned for the case.
Depp’s team responds to the mistrial filing
Depp and his team are fighting Heard’s motion to have a mistrial declared. They have filed their own motion asking Heard’s motion to be denied. Their filing alleges that Heard was privy to the juror discrepancy during the trial. They say she waited until after the trial to investigate the issue and is now attempting to use it to throw out the verdict. Meanwhile, the motion also claims that the verdict was clear, based on evidence, and cannot be thrown out under Virginia law unless it is proven to be wholly wrong or without evidence to support it.
Part of Depp’s team’s memo reads:
Following a six-week jury trial, a jury of Ms. Heard’s peers rendered a verdict against her in virtually all respects. Though understandably displeased with the outcome of trial, Ms. Heard has identified no legitimate basis to set aside in any respect the jury’s decision. Virginia law is clear that a verdict is not to be set aside unless it is “plainly wrong or without evidence to support it.”
Can a mistrial be declared?
Heard’s filing for a mistrial makes for a very unique situation. When a mistrial is declared, it is almost always declared before a verdict is given. After all, a mistrial means that the trial never completed and was halted before a verdict was reached. In this case, though, a verdict was already reached, making it very uncertain whether a mistrial truly can still be declared. Not only that, but even before the verdict, not every error results in a mistrial.
Ultimately, it will be up to the court how they choose to respond to both Heard’s and Depp’s individual motions. However, one must admit that in case as high-profile as this, it is deeply concerning that a juror who wasn’t summoned was allowed to sit through the entirety of the trial. It is also concerning considering we do not know what the intentions were or why this individual showed up to court. Meanwhile, if Depp’s team’s claims are true, that there was some knowledge of a juror discrepancy within the courtroom, it certainly raises the question for why it was not remedied sooner.
This was quite a big procedural error, and there must be consequences for it. Only time will tell how the court will seek to rectify the situation, though.
(featured image: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]