The OJ Simpson murder trial became one of the most-watched events in television history. OJ Simpson was accused of the double homicide of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The bodies of Ron and Nicole were found on the morning of June 13, 1994 in a pool of blood at Nicole’s residence in Los Angeles. Her two young children were found still in the house sleeping upstairs. Officers removed the children from the scene. Several hours later Detective Mark Fuhrman and Detective Tom Lange were asked by their supervisor to visit OJ Simpson’s residence, only one mile away, to arrange for pickup of the children. A few hours later, events began to unfold that would have a compelling impact on the eventual outcome of the case (Jones, 2010).
Blood on the Bronco
Upon arriving at OJ’s residence, the detectives noticed OJ’s white Ford Bronco parked outside the gates of his home. They buzzed the intercom several times but received no response. After obtaining OJ’s private telephone number they attempted to reach him by phone but again received no response. It was then that Detective Fuhrman noticed a small blood stain on the outside of the Ford Bronco. At this point, OJ was not yet an actual suspect in the murder but the detectives determined that due to several reasons there was probable cause to enter OJ’s residence without consent and without a search warrant. First, there was the fact that OJ’s ex-wife was lying murdered in a pool of her own blood not even a mile away. Second, while OJ’s vehicle was sitting parked outside the gates of his home, there was no response to repeated attempts to reach someone within the home via the intercom outside the home and via telephone even though lights were visible within the residence. Finally, there was what appeared to the detectives to be a blood stain on the outside of OJ’s Bronco. These events provided exigent circumstances that allowed the detectives to enter OJ’s residence even without consent or a search warrant. (Jones, 2010).
This incident is significant because months later during the preliminary hearing, one of OJ’s defense attorneys, Robert Shapiro, accused the detectives of violating Simpson’s Fourth Amendment rights by entering his premises illegally without consent and without a search or arrest warrant. The detectives, of course, defended their decision to enter Simpson’s residence based on fear for his safety. Based on the totality of circumstances it seems reasonable that the detectives may have believed they had stumbled upon a second murder-crime scene and were concerned for Simpson’s well-being, as opposed to having entered the premises with the expectation of searching for and/or finding evidence of a crime. The Court agreed and the evidence was allowed. (Jones, 2010).
The Relationship Between OJ and Nicole
While in the initial stages of the double homicide there was no evidence for OJ to be considered an actual suspect, he was a potential suspect from the beginning due to the nature of the relationship between OJ and Nicole. It is a sad fact that for major crimes such as murder and rape, the perpetrator is not normally a stranger–it is usually someone close to the victim or someone they at least knew, with about 1/3 of female victims being murdered by someone they were intimate with: “A third of all women’s injuries coming into our emergency rooms are no accident. Most are the result of deliberate, premeditated acts of violence. And frequently they occur over and over until the woman is killed” (Silent Witness, 2006). The fact that OJ was Nicole’s ex-husband, therefore, made OJ one of the potential suspects simply based on statistics. When reviewing the potentiality of upgrading OJ from a potential suspect to an actual suspect, however, there were valid reasons for OJ to become the prime potential suspect.
Nicole had called 911 on numerous occasions after altercations with OJ. He allegedly was very abusive physically and mentally to Nicole and 911 tapes show that Nicole was hurt and severely frightened numerous times throughout their marriage. Domestic abuse very often leads to homicide when the problem is not addressed; there are specific signs that experts say can usually predict a high chance of homicide in a relationship that involves domestic violence (McLean, 2008). These include: intense controlling behavior (friends and family of Nicole state that OJ was very controlling of Nicole (Jones, 2010)); explosive feelings of rage (friends and family of OJ state that he would go into fits of rage breaking down doors and abusing Nicole physically; Nicole’s sister stated that she had seen him turn into “an animal” where his eyes were insane and full of rage like an animal’s (Jones, 2010)); poor impulse control and searches out easy pleasure (OJ reportedly engaged in numerous extramarital affairs that did not stop even after Nicole found out; OJ practically defied her to stop him (Jones, 2010)); and more. The fact that OJ fits the “profile” of a domestic partner murderer, and that Nicole Brown called 911 numerous times to report incidences of domestic abuse, lead to the police zeroing in on OJ as their number one suspect. Nicole never pressed charges against OJ, and the domestic violence had continued. Statistically speaking, if indeed OJ did murder Nicole then it would not be surprising.
The Right to Search in light of the above . . .
When detectives made the decision to enter OJ’s home without a search warrant, they claimed that they did so due to exigent circumstances as described above. However, based on the domestic violence details given above, is it possible that the detectives actually did believe OJ was the killer from the beginning and that they entered his residence hoping to find him trying to hide evidence of Nicole’s murder or to find evidence of the crime? Or were they really concerned for his safety?
The answer to this question could make a difference as to whether the court allowed any evidence obtained during the initial search. Regardless of whether the police officers were aware of the past abuses in OJ and Nicole’s relationship, however, the facts remain that exigent circumstances were present that allowed the officers to legally enter the residence. That seems to make perfect sense–it would be interesting if a legal entry suddenly became illegal because the occupant of the home was a known “wife-beater”. . .
The exclusionary rule excludes evidence seized that violates the suspect’s Constitutional rights in attempts to ensure proper behavior by police officers. Its purpose is not to give suspects of crimes fortunate loopholes to avoid prosecution, however. Therefore, there are various exceptions to the exclusionary rule that will allow illegally seized evidence to be used in court. (Del Carmen & Walker, 2008). The inevitable discovery exception to the exclusionary rule allows into evidence any items that were illegally seized that would have been discovered anyway. Results on the use of this exception will vary from court to court. Some courts require that a valid investigation had already begun that would have led to the finding of the evidence in question when the illegal search happened. Other courts are more lenient and not only do not require this but also do not even require that this evidence would have been found by a police officer. (US Legal Definitions, 2010). Nix v. Williams (1984) set the precedent for the utilization of the inevitable discovery exception. (Del Carmen & Walker, 2008).
Depending on the presiding judge, most of the evidence used in the OJ Simpson trial could have been excluded if the exigent circumstances explanation on the warrantless entry were not accepted. Presuming that the evidence submitted in OJ’s actual trial was not tampered with, it is reasonable to assume that OJ would have “cleaned up” better had officers not entered his home when they did. Laundry would have been done, the Bronco would have been washed inside and out, and perhaps the evidence found such as the glove outside his home, the blood stains inside and outside the Bronco, the bloody sock on the floor of his bedroom, would have never been found. It is difficult to claim inevitable discovery in this situation to allow illegally seized evidence.
Arguments from Vying Sides
The prosecution would obviously argue for inclusion of the evidence on the grounds that it was legally obtained and that the search and seizure did not violate the suspect’s Constitutional rights. The police officers entered Simpson’s home based on exigent circumstances created by several facts that led them to believe that OJ and others in his home may be in danger–his ex-wife lay murdered only a few blocks away, there was no answer from anyone inside the residence even though lights could be seen within, and there was what appeared to be blood stains on the outside of OJ’s Ford Bronco parked outside his front gates. It is reasonable to assume that someone who knew both OJ and Nicole could have committed the crime at the Brown residence and then proceeded to OJ’s. The officers reasonably could have assumed that they may have stumbled upon another murder in progress or a hostage situation which would explain blood on the outside of the vehicle, lights inside the home with nobody answering the phone or gate, etc. (especially due to OJ’s celebrity status). Based on the totality of circumstances, the prosecution would argue that probable cause as defined in Illinois v. Gates (1983) allowed the detectives to legally enter the residence, as they had cause to believe a crime may be in progress and that the occupants may be in danger; hence they legally entered the residence based on probable cause and exigent circumstances. Even without probable cause, the police officers still had the legal right to enter the premises based on fear for the occupant’s safety as set in precedent by Brigham City, Utah v. Stewart et al (2006). Furthermore, the evanescent evidence exception to the warrant requirement allowed the police officers to seize evidence they viewed in plain sight once legal entry was established, and did not violate the suspect’s Constitutional rights as per Cupp v. Murphy (1973) since the blood evidence, if not seized, would have most likely “disappeared” by the time police obtained a warrant. (Del Carmen & Walker, 2008).
The defense would of course argue that the evidence be excluded from trial based on a violation of OJ’s Fourth Amendment right to unreasonable search and seizure, as they in fact did in reality. The defense would have to be able to show that the arguments mentioned above by the prosecution are not logical and exigent circumstances did not exist. There was no “proof” that the spot on the Ford Bronco was indeed blood, there were no signs of forced entry past the gates to the residence or reports from the area of any disturbance other than those from the immediate area surrounding Nicole Brown’s residence. The defense therefore could use these factors to attempt to invalidate the exigent circumstances claim by the prosecution and convince the jury that the prosecution was stretching the logical argument in order to validate an illegal entry and search.
While many still believe that OJ Simpson is guilty of the double homicide, the jury found him not guilty based mainly on the questions surrounding DNA evidence and the improprieties of Detective Fuhrman and other officers at the LAPD. Many voices around the country, and the world, believe that this case is one example of how the American legal system favors the advantaged to the disadvantaged, or the rich to the poor, if you prefer. Simpson was able to retain a “Dream Team” of attorneys who argued vehemently to create that shadow of doubt in the minds of the jurors that forced them to a final verdict of not guilty. It is doubtful that this would have been the case if Simpson did not have such a defense team on his side, and this team would certainly have been out of the financial means of most citizens.
Del Carmen, R. V., & Walker, J. T. (2008). Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement. Newark: LexisNexis.
Dunham, R. G., & Alpert, G. P. (2005). Critical Issues in Policing. Long Grove: Waveland Press, Inc.
Jones, T. (2010). OJ Simpson. Retrieved February 25, 2010, from Tru Crime: http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/famous/simpson/index_1.html
McLean, R. (2008). Abuse Can Lead to Spousal Death or Murder. Retrieved March 1, 2010, from CyberParent: http://www.cyberparent.com/abuse/abuser-killer-abused-spouse.htm
Silent Witness. (2006). Statistics on Domestic Violence. Retrieved March 1, 2010, from Silent Witness: http://www.silentwitness.net/sub/violences.htm#violence
US Legal Definitions. (2010). Inevitable Discovery Exception Law & Legal Definition. Retrieved March 1, 2010, from US Legal Definitions: http://definitions.uslegal.com/i/inevitable-discovery-exception/