Due Process: A closer look at the OJ Simpson Trial

“Due Process” is a principle that the government and the legal system must uphold ideals directed in the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments in regards to civil and legal rights of a citizen.  From the Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  From the Fourteenth amendment: “No state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  While the Fifth Amendment applies to the actions of the Federal Government, the Fourteenth Amendment expressly applies to the States.  Specifically, the simplified meaning of due process is that an individual is entitled to all processes that are “due” him/her as a free citizen as defined by their constitutional rights.  Any process that restricts, or impairs, any right available to all citizens as a constitutional right, would be deemed not to follow “due process” (Wikipedia, 2008).

Generally, due process guarantees (US Constitution Online, 2008):

  • The right to a fair and public trial conducted in a competent manner.
  • The right to be present at the trial.
  • The right to an impartial jury.
  • The right to be heard in one’s own defense.
  • Laws must be written so that a reasonable person can understand what criminal behavior is.
  • Taxes must only be taken for public purposes.
  • Property may be taken by the government only for public purposes.
  • Owners of taken property must be fairly compensated.

In short, the concept of “due process” revolves around the concept of “fairness”.

After carefully reviewing all information pertaining to the Simpson trial, I believe due process was given.  Many years ago when watching this case through the news, my opinion was that the jury must be insane; how could anyone have acquitted this man who was obviously guilty?  After reading the facts in detail, however, and understanding the due process laws much better (and the responsibility of a jury to return “not guilty” unless they believe guilt beyond a reasonable doubt), I must admit my opinion has changed.  In light of the evidence of police corruption, the potential for evidence tampering, and the racist undertone of the LAPD, I believe the jury gave the only verdict their consciences would allow in respecting Mr. Simpson’s due process rights.  We must always keep in mind that guilty does not necessarily mean “legally guilty”.

The Simpson trial gained extensive media and community attention due to the celebrity status of the case and the inherent racial undertones of a black man murdering his white ex-wife and lover.  The myths about the “violent black man” and the negative stereotype to interracial marriages may have caused the sensationalism that surrounded this case but I believe it was mostly due to OJ’s celebrity status.  Society, already with a preconception of guilt, held with bated breath awaiting the verdict.  Would the celebrity’s “dream team” manage to let a murderer walk free?  While these thoughts were shrouded in misperception, I believe they caused much of the clamor over the trial.

To this day, most white people believe that OJ was guilty and released due to his celebrity status and the fears about racial chaos that would result if a guilty verdict was returned (think riots).  As I mentioned, I too was guilty of this perception until reading all the facts surrounding this case.  As is usually the case, our ignorance allows myths to form that we readily believe and once they are there, the media and others do little to dispel these myths.  Since the majority of society could not spend all day watching the case, their knowledge of the facts came from office gossip and the media.   The media, of course, focused on the sensational aspects of the case and did not disseminate all the information that would have been necessary for an educated opinion to be made by the average person.  I believe many of the myths about this case, and the myths that have developed about our criminal justice system due to the case, could have been avoided if media would have played a more intellectual journalistic role in reporting the case.

I believe the outcome of the case may have enhanced perceptions that the criminal justice system only works for the wealthy.  It is unfortunate that even though our system attempts to provide equal justice for all, not all defense attorneys are created equal, and therefore, not everyone is going to receive the same defense and opportunities that a good defense could afford them.  Since the very good defense attorneys know they are superior in their abilities and they are in high demand, they charge extensively for their services making only the exorbitantly wealthy capable of receiving this superior defense.  While I don’t believe the criminal justice system purposely attempts to give the wealthy more justice than the poor, it is true that regardless, that is often the outcome which perpetuates the myth that our criminal justice system is corrupt and unfair.

I believe many different theoretical orientations could be applied to the OJ case and each would bring its own views on whether the outcome of the case was fair and followed due process.  From a systems perspective, I believe most would feel the system worked as it was supposed to (guilt was not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt and therefore OJ is free, plain and simple).  Those from an oppression viewpoint would believe the outcome of the case was fair but that OJ should have never been put on trial in the first place.  They would believe because he was an African American black man and his murdered wife and lover were white that OJ was being racially discriminated against.  From a Due Process perspective, the case was handled appropriately and the proper verdict achieved as Simpson’s due process rights were met which didn’t allow evidence that had the possibility of being tampered with to be used in proving guilt.  From a Crime Control perspective, the trial went horribly wrong and the verdict was unjust.  This perspective would state that the victims’ rights were denied in favor of the defendant’s and that justice was not served.  My personal belief is that the outcome was not discriminatory and was fair; not too harsh nor too lenient.

I believe the outcome of the case would have been the same whether OJ was African American or not.  However, I do believe that if he did not have the “dream team” behind him that he would have been found guilty.  Not that the facts that introduced doubt would have changed, but simply that his defense (more likely than not to be state-appointed) would not have taken the time or trouble to find these facts and introduce them.  Without the facts that showed the lead-investigator in the case to be a racist who had admitted in the past to planting evidence in cases to obtain a conviction, OJ may have well been found guilty.  So I do believe his celebrity status played a large role in the outcome of this case only because of the amount of money he was able to invest in his defense.  I don’t believe any other factors such as media coverage or public interest influenced the final outcome enough to warrant concern.  The jurors remained sequestered and although it is certain they did receive communications as to the reporting of the media and the general sentiment of the public in this case, I do not believe it would be sufficient to change their verdict.

The legal costs in this case were indeed exorbitant.  I am at a cross-road as to whether I believe the cost was justifiable or not.  On the one hand, OJ has the right to spend his money as he sees fit and spending $4-7 million on his defense, while exorbitant, certainly worked for him, and he had the right to be adequately represented.  However, for the prosecution to spend $9 million on the case and not even prosecute as effectively as the defense defended (at a much lower cost) seems unjustified.  The prosecution’s right to spend that kind of money is not the same as OJ’s; OJ spent his personal money not my tax money.  I do believe that the state should have spent more time focusing on other possible suspects before dumping this kind of money into prosecuting OJ and spending $9 million of our tax dollars.  For instance, it would appear that one of OJ’s older sons was a possible suspect as well but this was not looked into.  It seems to me that if someone is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it wouldn’t take $9 million to prove this.  Only with having to overcompensate for evidence that they knew was only circumstantial and not enough to convict was the impetus behind most of this spending I suspect.  The state should have done it’s homework before spending this kind of money; they should have known the facts behind the evidence that the defense brought to light and known that the defense would find this and present it.

I believe the LAPD did rush to name Simpson as a suspect.  As mentioned, his older son was also a potential suspect which was never pursued.  It is true that Simpson fleeing his home in his Bronco after leaving a suicide letter, having a large sum of cash, a passport and a suitcase of clothes with him do indeed make him appear guilty.  Although I instinctually feel this points to his guilt as well, there are other things to be considered.  For example, who really knows how they would react in such a situation?  Putting myself in his shoes for a moment (even that infamous brand he purported not to own and was later photographed wearing), I just found out the mother of my children and a woman I loved dearly was murdered.  Then I find out that I am a suspect and I also believe that the LAPD is racist.  I then decide that even though innocent that I would be found guilty because I do not trust the integrity of neither the LAPD nor the system itself because I am African American.  These thoughts commixing with the less rational thought associated with psychological trauma may be enough to cause me to act as irrationally as OJ did even if innocent.  So even in light of what appears to be an obvious admission of guilt, fleeing, there is the possibility that he is innocent.  I believe the LAPD did not take these factors into account and immediately presumed his guilt because he fled.  This case certainly has undertones of police inefficiency.

If Simpson had been found guilty and awarded the death penalty, this would not have had any effect on the crime rates.  IF Simpson was guilty then his crime was one of passion that had a very high likelihood of never being repeated.  In other words, Simpson never was a threat to society; he would not be likely to go out and kill again.  The effect it would have had on society, however, is debatable.  I question the ability of our society to get too much in arms over any injustice; sadly, I feel that the majority of Americans have become too comfortable with their status-quo and will not “rock the boat” even in situations of perceived injustice toward them or others.  However, there is certainly the potential for this reaction if many found this to be an unfair ruling.

In order to dispel the myths about our criminal justice system it is important that the media, law enforcement and political leaders adhere to strict moral principles of what our system is supposed to be founded on and do everything in their power to lead with integrity and show society that their beliefs are not, necessarily, accurate.

Works Cited

US Constitution Online. (2008). Constitutional Topic: Due Process. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from US Constitution Online: http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_duep.html

Wikipedia. (2008). Due Process. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Due_process#cite_note-13

 

 

 

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