The OJ Simpson murder trial reinforced previously held beliefs that one can get away with murder in America by spending money on an expensive legal team. According to a public opinion poll, 80 percent of Americans believed that Simpson murdered his wife and her lover; however, it is the 12 members of the jury that would decide the Simpson case.
During the trial, the defense and prosecution presented their case for the guilt or innocence of Simpson to the jury. They tried their best, since they believed winning a once-in-a-century trial broadcast all across the world would make them famous.
Jurors are especially cautious about their verdicts on serious cases, such as murder. Their false judgment could cause an innocent man to spend his entire life in prison. There is a legal term called “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which refers to the juror’s right to vote “not guilty” unless he or she has absolutely no doubt of the defendant’s guilt, mainly if it is hard to believe that the defendant committed murder, or if the prosecution’s evidence does not convince them.
Even if 11 out of 12 members of a jury decide that the defendant is guilty, only one juror’s not-guilty vote causes a hung jury, which results in a mistrial. In most cases, the case ends up being dismissed; in other words, the result is the same as acquittal.
This means that it’s very expensive to get the service of famous lawyers who have not lost many of their cases. Naturally, these lawyers can afford to take only highly winnable cases, and their chance of winning increases. This means that they get more well-known, their offices become bigger, and they can hire hundreds of very good lawyers to work in their firm. On the other hand, since unknown lawyers cannot afford to choose their cases, they cannot avoid cases that they have no chance to win, and end up losing those cases, sending them into a vicious cycle.
A major problem of the U.S. judicial system is that because those with money can afford the expensive fees of the best lawyers, while those without money can only hire public defenders provided by the courts for free, results are often skewed toward the rich. A prime example is the Simpson case, a contest between the unknown prosecution lawyers and the “Dream Team” defense, where the prosecution lost despite the majority of Americans believing Simpson was guilty.
When the jury reached a verdict of “not guilty” on Oct. 3, 1995, one year and four months after the murders, many Americans were surprised, and the verdict made headlines all over the world. One of the prosecutors of the case, Marcia Clark, became famous even though she lost the case. She resigned from her office and started a lucrative acting career in Hollywood, peaking with a role as a prosecutor in a drama similar to an old Korean movie, “The Prosecutor and the Female Teacher.” However, her acting career did not last long.
After Simpson was acquitted in the criminal trial, the families of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman filed a civil suit against him. A new legal battle began, and a different jury was selected. Instead of the eight black members of the criminal trial’s jury, the civil trial’s jury consisted of one black member and nine white members. On Feb. 4, 1997, the civil trial jury found Simpson negligent in the deaths of Nicole and Goldman. This surprised Americans once again, who raised questions about the potentially serious problem confronting the American judicial system.
Simpson was sentenced to pay $8.5 million, and all his property was seized, to the point where he had to return the Heisman Trophy he won in 1968. Simpson was not looked at kindly in the public eye, and as he became alienated from society he started committing smaller crimes. Finally, he was convicted of major theft in Las Vegas and sentenced to 16 years in prison. With this, the public life of OJ Simpson, a famous football player and an alumnus of my university (USC), came to an end.
The Simpson case was even disputed in Congress, but they believed that making an issue out of a judicial decision was against the separation of powers. They also believed that respecting the decision of a jury of ordinary people is a principle of democracy. Americans do not always believe that democracy is perfect.
However, they firmly believe that although democracy has its unreasonable side, it is historically considered the best choice for governing individuals. That is why so many nations follow the U.S. democratic system, and few countries follow the autocratic communist model of North Korea and Cuba. Americans are proud of their system, where people elect a President every four years, a jury consists of the people, a judge is elected by the people, and a Congress elected by the people makes the laws.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information visit Kim’s website at http://www.jayckim.com.