O.J. Simpson has finally been sentenced to prison. Not for multiple homicide in Los Angeles back in the ’90s, but for other more recent charges in Nevada. That is too little, too late.
Lost in the discussion of those long-ago acquittals and the recent convictions is the effect that those acquittals had on the criminal justice system.
On the day O.J. was acquitted of murder, I was a very successful criminal defense attorney. I had a streak going of 12 consecutive not guilty verdicts in jury trials. Then, overnight, everything changed. Juries got mean.
Prior to those acquittals, if juries believed that the State had failed to prove its case by a reasonable doubt, they would return verdicts of not guilty. That is a jury’s duty. After OJ’s acquittals, juries would return verdicts of guilty, unless they believed the defendant was actually not guilty.
I tried plenty of cases after O.J.’s acquittals, in which I’m sure the jury would have found my client guilty, even if O.J. had shot himself in that white Ford Blazer after the televised, infamous low-speed chase, and never gone to trial. But, there were other cases I tried about which I have no doubt that the jury would have acquitted, were it not for the miscarriage of justice that led to him walking free.
I know that jurors said to themselves, “There is no way I’m going to be like those idiots who let O.J. walk. I’m going to vote guilty.”
O.J. walked free that day. Many other men who should have walked free in the years afterward paid the price for his crime in lengthy prison terms. The criminal justice system was poisoned by those acquittals. I hope that has changed over the years, and if not, I hope that the guilty verdicts rendered by that jury last week in Nevada have finally put to rest in jurors’ minds the notion that it is the defendant’s job to prove his innocence, rather than the State’s job to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.