Legal Specialist Answers Our Questions After the End of the Depp vs. Heard Trial

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Iconic actor Johnny Depp’s defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard has come to an end, and many were left with a bad taste in their mouths.

The trial, which began April 11 in Fairfax County, Virginia, and ended last Wednesday, evaluated Depp’s allegations in three counts of defamation against Heard, claiming $50 million in damages.

Heard filed a countersuit against Depp, seeking $100 million, alleging three counts of defamation based on statements by Depp’s former attorney.

Depp alleged that the op-ed published by Heard in The Washington Post in December 2018 accusing her ex-husband of spousal violence without explicitly naming him had damaged his reputation and career, causing him significant financial loss.

Ultimately, the jury ruled that the claims in Heard’s op-ed were false, defamed Depp, and were made with actual malice, so the jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages from Heard.

However, for a country enveloped in the cancellation culture after the boom of the #MeToo movement, the fact that a man was a victim of spousal violence — as could be glimpsed in the trial — or that the allegations of a woman claiming to be a victim of domestic violence were not upheld, seem to be incongruous.

At BELatina, we decided to ask our questions and raise our doubts after the Depp vs. Heard trial to the specialists.

BELatina spoke with Jonathan Z. Schiller, a Florida Bar Board Certified Specialist in Matrimonial and Family Law. This is what he had to say:

Is there a proven way to determine whether you have a legitimate domestic violence case?

There is no one proven method to determine whether a person is the victim of domestic violence, commonly referred to as “intimate partner violence.” In most instances, law enforcement may be the first line of protection in determining whether “probable cause” exists to arrest someone for committing an act of intimate partner violence. In case of absent law enforcement, a victim can seek guidance from an attorney or mental health counselor with experience in determining whether the acts of violence or threats of violence will meet the legal criteria for proving domestic violence.

How can either party collect different types of evidence during cases of domestic violence?

Contemporaneous evidence is critical as most instances of intimate partner violence is “he said, she said.” In today’s society, most individuals have a cell phone or other recording device in their home, such as a Ring camera. The best evidence to obtain is contemporaneous audio, video, photographs, or a third-party witness to best document the abuse.  It is important to determine which jurisdiction’s law controls cases involving digital evidence as some states require the consent of both parties to record a conversation where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in your home, but other states require only one-party consent.  If the evidence was obtained unlawfully, the evidence will be stricken from any court proceedings.  In the event of physical or mental injuries, contemporaneous treatment is highly suggested so that there is a memorialization of the injuries, medical records, photographs, etc. Lastly, timely reporting incidents to law enforcement is also important because the failure to do so can affect an individual’s credibility even though there may be viable justifications for not doing so.

What counts as acceptable evidence?

The court has broad discretion to allow and admit relevant evidence so long as it is obtained lawfully.  Photographic, video, audio, and/or medical evidence that the victim was injured may be enough to prove that the defendant caused the injuries and did so intentionally. In some instances, the court will need to receive other evidence, through witness testimony or an admission of a party, like a 911 phone call, e-mail, or text, that corroborates the victim’s allegations and establishes intent.  Even though a police officer or doctor may not have been present during the incident, they can testify as to what they observed, including any property which may have been destroyed or injuries to the victim.  Since domestic violence cases often turn on credibility, if a victim recants their allegations or refuses to testify, the introduction of prior violent acts can amount to the difference between conviction and acquittal. Providing a history of violent behavior may allow the factfinder a taste of the parties’ true relationship and can negate the defense that the victim’s injuries were accidental or unintentional.  In this regard, prior misconduct evidence can aid the factfinder in understanding why the victim did not disclose the crime(s) sooner or why the victim is recanting the allegations at trial.

What would not be considered acceptable evidence?

Hearsay, an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of whatever it asserts, is generally inadmissible but there are many exceptions, such as an excited utterance, admission of a party, state of mind, or medical diagnosis. As stated above, evidence obtained unlawfully, such as a video or audio recording taken without the required consent of a party, will be stricken.  Moreover, it is important to note that all evidence must meet the strict standard for authentication and code of evidence standards in a particular jurisdiction.

Once the evidence is gathered, what should be the direct next steps?

Timely report all incidents to law enforcement (for example, call 911) and, if necessary, a medical provider who can document any injuries sustained.  An alternative to calling law enforcement would be to contact an attorney or domestic violence agency like the National Domestic Violence Hotline to begin developing a safety plan.  A safety plan is a set of actions that can help lower your risk of being hurt by your partner. It includes information specific to you and your life that will increase your safety at school, home, and other places that you go.   An attorney or local domestic violence agency may also assist you in determining whether there is an immediate risk of domestic violence and may assist in obtaining a temporary and/or permanent injunction for protection against domestic violence.

Anything else you’d like to share with the BELatina News audience?

To understand relationship abuse, we must recognize that it is more than physical violence. Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. Below is the Power and Control chart, which serves as a diagram of tactics that an abusive partner uses to keep their victims in a relationship. The inside of the wheel is made up of subtle, continual behaviors over time, while the outer ring represents physical and sexual violence. Abusive actions like those depicted in the outer ring often reinforce the regular use of other, more subtle methods found in the inner ring.


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