Amber Heard’s Likelihood of Interesting Verdict: Specialists Weigh In

A jury might have come again with a victory for Johnny Depp in his defamation swimsuit towards ex-wife Amber Heard, however the authorized drama is way from over. Heard’s attorneys have mentioned that she is going to enchantment the choice, a course of that may seemingly take years. TIME spoke to specialists about what occurs subsequent within the case, Heard’s possibilities of profitable an enchantment, and the way far this authorized battle might go.

First, a little bit of background on the case itself. Depp had sued Heard over a Washington Publish op-ed revealed in 2018, wherein Heard known as herself a “public determine representing home abuse.” Heard by no means named Depp as her abuser. Nonetheless, Depp claimed that the opinion piece harm his profession. Heard then countersued, claiming that Depp’s lawyer Adam Waldman, as an agent of Depp, defamed her by calling her allegations “a hoax” within the Every day Mail.

Many authorized specialists doubted that Depp would win the case: The actor had misplaced an identical libel swimsuit within the UK towards the tabloid The Solar in 2020. In that case, a British choose wrote that he discovered The solar’s assertion that Depp was a “spouse beater” to be “considerably true,” and that Depp had assaulted Heard on a minimum of 12 events. However the consequence of that case was determined by a choose, not a jury, nor was the trial televised, because the US one was.

Within the US case, the jury handed down awards to each Heard and Depp. They discovered that Heard defamed Depp with “malicious” intent and awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Choose Penney Azcarate then decreased the punitive damages to Virginia’s statutory cap of $350,000. However the jury was additionally awarded Heard $2 million in compensatory damages on her countersuit. The decision has left many confused since awarding damages to Depp would recommend that they believed the Pirates of the Caribbean star when he mentioned Heard lied in regards to the abuse she alleged, however awarding cash to Heard contradictorily suggests they believed her claims of abuse weren’t, in truth, “a hoax.”

Authorized specialists are divided on what Heard’s staff will—or ought to—do in the event that they plan to enchantment the case. The jury appeared to search out Depp’s story extra credible than Heard’s. And specialists agreed that appellate courts are typically reluctant to reassess credibility judgments made by juries, even when this jury’s conclusion appears contradictory. “Anybody interesting has an uphill battle,” says Rebekah Sullivan, a Washington, DC, lawyer who focuses on household legislation. Most definitely, the attorneys who spoke to TIME mentioned, Heard’s staff will argue some authorized error was made throughout trial and can attempt to overturn the decision on the idea that the jury was influenced by issues they noticed and heard exterior the courtroom.

Learn Extra: The Depp-Heard Trial Perpetuates the Fable of the Excellent Sufferer

No matter Heard’s staff decides, an appeals courtroom will not hand down a ruling anytime quickly. “It is a lengthy, costly course of,” says David Ring, a Los Angeles civil trial lawyer. He and different specialists estimated the enchantment would take two years minimal. A number of attorneys who spoke with TIME speculated it is going to value Heard lots of of hundreds of {dollars} along with the seemingly hundreds of thousands she’s already spent in authorized charges. “However while you’re dealing with a $15 million judgment,” says Ring, “you actually should most likely pursue that.”

Earlier than the appeals course of even begins, specialists say it’s seemingly that Heard (or her insurance coverage firm) must put up some type of bond that reveals she has or can elevate the cash that she owes Depp. On condition that Heard and her attorneys have mentioned this trial has been a monetary burden for the actor, Heard’s capability to publish the bond is just not assured.

Nonetheless, if she does proceed, her staff might have a greater probability in entrance of an appeals courtroom than the jury of 5 males and two ladies who awarded Depp damages. The trial was televised stay, jurors weren’t sequestered, and movies and memes of Depp and Heard on the witness stand, together with overwhelmingly pro-Depp commentary, have been inescapable on social media platforms like TikTok. “I might anticipate the appellate portion of the case, the place the viewers is judges, to focus extra on authorized arguments and so much much less on the theatrics that we noticed within the trial the place the viewers was a jury,” says Sullivan.

Ring agreed: “It was a spectacle,” he mentioned of the unique trial.

Learn Extra: Why You are Seeing So Many Johnny Depp Defenders on TikTok

On enchantment, there could be no cameras and no alternative for Heard’s testimony to be picked aside, edited, and misconstrued on social media. Three appellate judges within the Virginia Court docket of Appeals would resolve the case largely by shifting by way of paperwork written by attorneys for both aspect. Relying on the result, the case might then be appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court docket, which has the discretion to take the case or refuse to listen to it, and in the end to the US Supreme Court docket, which has the identical discretion.

In accordance with specialists, there are a selection of arguments Heard’s staff might make. Her lawyer Elaine Bredehoft made feedback after the trial that would appear to recommend that she is going to deal with proof. She has urged that some items of proof Depp was in a position to introduce have been “prejudicial” whereas sure proof from Heard’s staff was “suppressed” at trial, together with proof that was permitted within the UK trial however not the US one.

“This trial choose let in lots of proof on this case. I imply, so much,” says Ring. “I believe issues went form of far afield from what the actual points have been…In order that’s the idea for an enchantment, although not essentially a terrific foundation for enchantment.” He provides that evidentiary rulings are hardly ever the idea utilized by an appellate courtroom to overturn a jury verdict.

Mary Anne Franks, a professor on the College of Miami Faculty of Regulation who focuses on civil rights, says that Heard’s staff may problem the choose’s choice to permit the trial to be live-streamed, “a very uncommon choice provided that the case concerned allegations of sexual abuse and home violence,” in addition to the choose’s choice to not sequester the jury which was in “a trial by social media.”

Learn Extra: Depp v. Heard Reminds Us That the Authorized System Is Nonetheless Stacked In opposition to Survivors

Azcarate did remind the jury time and again to not watch information in regards to the trial at night time. However even logging onto Instagram or Twitter or TikTok may need led jurors to memes in regards to the case, together with unfounded allegations that Heard faked bruises and persuaded witnesses to lie.

“I really assume that is a fairly good argument,” says Sullivan. “What was so extraordinary about this trial is the social media and information protection of it, form of a circus of public opinion. With this case, you’ve gotten your jury going dwelling, their households have actually been following this. They see the TikToks and the tweets. And the unsequestered jury is being uncovered to issues that weren’t admissible within the trial. So to the extent that Heard’s attorneys can argue they have been influenced by exterior components that weren’t admitted within the trial, that really has a fairly excessive probability of success, for my part.”

However Ring believes that argument could be “a loser” on enchantment as a result of, he says, the concept of ​​sequestering juries has fallen out of favor in fashionable courtrooms. “It is simply not life like to sequester juries for six weeks with out their telephones anymore,” he says. Heard’s staff can, nonetheless, interview the jurors from the trial about why they dominated the best way that they did. “In the event that they interviewed them and the jurors mentioned, ‘We adopted TMZ each night time,’ OK, now you’ve got obtained a foundation for enchantment. However I do not assume anybody’s going to confess to that if it occurred.”

Many authorized commentators have questioned whether or not Heard’s 2018 op-ed really rises to the extent of defamation contemplating the particular phrases within the piece. “On condition that the op-ed by no means mentions Depp’s identify and is essentially dedicated to the broader subject of the challenges dealing with ladies who communicate out towards abuse, it strains credulity to argue that the op-ed harmed Depp in any significant means,” says Franks . “And particularly in any means associated to his profession, which was already struggling as a consequence of well-documented behavioral points.” The truth is, Franks factors out, Heard didn’t write the headline for the piece, one of many statements at subject. She merely retweeted it.

Sullivan additionally thought Heard’s staff might deal with the headlines once they enchantment. Defamation—or the act of damaging somebody’s good status with a false assertion—is, basically, an exception to the First Modification proper of freedom of speech. But when individuals who merely retweet information tales may be held liable for defamation if the article is inaccurate, that may current main First Modification issues for hundreds of thousands of Twitter customers. Sullivan mentioned that it is attainable Heard’s attorneys might go away open the choice to take the case to the Supreme Court docket by specializing in this First Modification subject. “They may make sure you embody a First Modification declare in the event that they need to take this all the best way,” she says.

Although authorized specialists have been divided on whether or not Heard stands an opportunity towards Depp if she appeals her case, they agree it might be well worth the threat for Heard. “On no account, form, or type,” says Ring, “is that this a slam-dunk winner for Johnny Depp on enchantment.”

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at [email protected]