It started on a Monday in April. Six weeks later, on a Friday in May, what has been described as a mudslinging trial between actors and former spouses Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is now drawing to a close.
Both camps tried to convince the jury of their lawsuits by means of witness statements, text and voice messages. May 27 is the day for the lawyers’ closing arguments – and the jury must then decide: Did Heard intentionally tarnish her ex-partner’s reputation, or did Depp wage a “smear campaign” against his ex-wife? We summarize what you should know before the verdict.
Under US law, anyone has the opportunity to have their claim before a jury – if the amount in dispute is more than $20,000 and such a trial is required. This is the case in Depp vs. Heard.
While the judge is responsible for decisions on legal issues and for chairing the hearing, the jury is responsible for ascertaining facts relevant to the decision. In other words, the jury — randomly selected lay judges — decides which lawsuit wins.
In the trial between the two actors, the jury consists of seven jurors and four alternates. They meet for advisory talks after the procedure.
According to the legal magazine “Legal Tribune Online”, it is not possible to predict how long it will take the jury to reach a verdict. The jury must reach a unanimous decision, and depending on the complaint and the evidence, this may take more or less time. In the fastest case, the decision will be made within a few hours. But it can also take days.
At first glance there seem to be two possibilities: either Johnny Depp wins, or Amber Heard. But it’s not that simple. As the Legal Tribune Online explains, if the jury is fully satisfied that Heard fabricated her statements to frame Depp, that does not mean that punitive damages would also be awarded. The award and amount of punitive damages is also at the discretion of the jury and court.
It also remains to be seen how the losing side will react to the verdict. Should Depp lose, he could appeal under certain circumstances. The same goes for Heard.
Depp’s defamation lawsuit prompted an article by Heard that appeared in the Washington Post in 2018. The article is entitled: “I spoke out against sexual violence – and drew the wrath of our culture. That needs to change”. In it, the author writes, “Two years ago I became a public figure that represents domestic abuse.”
In the essay, Heard does not mention her ex-husband by name, nor does she explicitly describe herself as a victim of domestic violence. However, the actress makes the connection to her 2016 divorce trial. The Pirates of the Caribbean actor accused Heard of the article damaging his reputation and career.
Depp is seeking $50 million from Heard in punitive damages. In her counterclaim, she is demanding 100 million from him. She accuses him of damaging her reputation by claiming that she is lying. During the trial, both accused each other of violence.
For both of them it is also about the future of their careers. Before the ongoing trial, Depp said he wanted to clear his name. Public perception of the trial and the verdict could affect Heard and Depp’s careers. Many people have already formed their judgment during the process.