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O.J. Simpson, 20 Years Later: 5 Lessons From His Criminal Cases

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Friday is the 20th anniversary of the killings that led to the murder trial of former athlete and actor O.J. Simpson.

As you may recall, Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were killed June 13, 1994. O.J.'s news-breaking acquittal for their murders occurred a little more than a year later; he's currently in prison for an unrelated armed-robbery conviction.

So what legal lessons did we learn from O.J. Simpson? Looking back over the last two decades, here are five that come to mind:

  • Know someone who has been arrested or charged with a crime? Get in touch with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area today.

1. There's a Difference Between Civil and Criminal Trials.

The burden of proof is lower in civil court, so it was possible for Simpson to be held responsible for the same alleged conduct that he was acquitted for in criminal court. In 1997, CNN reported that a jury unanimously found him guilty in civil court for the wrongful death of Goldman and for battery of his ex-wife. Lawyers and legal educators continue to use this case as a perfect example of the differences between criminal and civil trials.

2. How You Appear in Court Is Important.

Attorneys spend a great deal of time worrying about how their clients appear before a jury, and Simpson was certainly no exception. How Simpson appeared or how he dressed may have had more impact on the jury than the legal arguments against him. In fact, a fight over the tan Armani suit Simpson was wearing on the day of his acquittal came to a close in 2010 when it was donated to the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

3. 'Self-Help' Remedies Are Never a Good Idea.

If you feel that someone has gained possession of your property unlawfully, it is never a good idea to turn to "self-help" remedies (i.e., stealing the stuff back). In September 2007, Simpson and three accomplices attempted to rob some folks in a Las Vegas hotel who had possession of some of Simpson's sports memorabilia. So despite being acquitted for murder, Simpson was eventually incarcerated for robbery and kidnapping.

4. Competent Representation Is Key.

After exhausting his direct appeals, Simpson requested a new trial based on an argument that his former attorney was ineffective. Even if you can prove that your counsel was ineffective, it's very difficult to win an appeal or get a new trial on these grounds.

5. Habeas Petitions Are Different Than Direct Appeals.

A habeas petition is a way for a convict to appeal his sentence for constitutional reasons even if his or her direct criminal appeals have been exhausted. In Simpson's robbery and kidnapping case, he lost his direct appeal before Nevada's high court in 2010 but was able to argue for a new trial under a habeas petition three years later.

Hopefully the last 20 years since the deaths in the O.J. Simpson case have provided something of legal value.

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