Experts say Deep Heard's judgment is about 'credibility', not 'freedom of expression'

Experts say Deep Heard’s judgment is about ‘credibility’, not ‘freedom of expression’

  • A Virginia jury on Wednesday found Amber Heard and Johnny Depp both liable for defamation.
  • While Heard decried the ruling as a censure of the First Amendment, legal experts disagree.
  • “This isn’t really a free speech issue, it’s really an issue of credibility,” a former prosecutor said.

Amber Heard on Wednesday lamented that she lost the right to “speak freely and publicly” after a Virginia jury found her liable for defamation in her ex-husband Johnny Depp’s case against her.

But legal experts told Insider that the sensational six-week trial wasn’t really about free speech and assumed that the ruling was unlikely to have future implications for First Amendment law.

“This isn’t really an issue of free speech, it’s really an issue of credibility,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and chief trial attorney for the West Coast. “The jury found that she lied, and I knew she was lying.”

At the center of the case was Heard’s 2018 Washington Post op-ed, in which she said she is a survivor of domestic and sexual violence. The piece did not mention Depp’s name, but he accused his ex-wife of ruining his reputation and career. Heard then disputed Depp, claiming that he assaulted her before and during their marriage, which ended in divorce in 2016. Depp denied the allegations.

Six weeks after the testimony was given, a jury on Wednesday found that Heard had slandered Depp, and awarded him $15 million in damages. They also found Depp liable for defamation against Heard after one of his lawyers called the sexual abuse allegations a “hoax,” and awarded her $2 million in damages.

While the First Amendment enshrines Americans’ right to free speech, the doctrine does not protect against defamatory speech—false statements that are presented as truth and lead to consequential harm.

“It’s not about the First Amendment,” Mitra Ahurian, a Beverly Hills entertainment attorney, told Insider.

“You cannot lie and make statements that harm people. This is not protected speech,” she added.

While Heard’s legal team urged the jury to consider the effects of the First Amendment as they relate to Heard’s right to have her story published in the Washington Post, Depp’s case relies more effectively on his accusation that the story she told was riddled with damaging lies about him, experts said. .

Depp’s legal team worked hard to make holes in Heard’s story while questioning witnesses, highlighting inconsistencies in her testimony and casting doubt on its reliability in a proven experimental tactic.

For example, Heard claimed she played no role in the abuse, but contradicting an audio recording played in court showed Heard saying she “beaten” Depp, according to Ahurayan. Heard testified that she had acted in self-defence.

Heard also said in 2018 that she donated $7 million from her divorce settlement to a charity, but testimony from the trial revealed that she did not actually donate the money. She said she hasn’t donated it yet because Depp sued her for $50 million, but she still plans to.

Several experts also told Insider that Heard’s graphic descriptions of Depp’s violence against her do not match the photos of her injuries shown in court.

Roy Guterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Expression at Syracuse University and a First Amendment expert, told Insider that key factors were Heard and Depp’s testimonials and their “credibility, credibility, and, ultimately, likeability,” adding that “jurors believed Johnny Depp over Amber heard.”

Legal experts from Insider’s Ashley Collman told Wednesday that Heard lost the defamation case because it was not credible and she lacked the star power of her ex-husband.

Celebrities face a much greater burden of proof when it comes to defamation lawsuits. Public figures have to prove that defamatory statements about them were “genuine malice,” meaning that the speaker knew the statements were false or acted with reckless disregard for the truth.

“If you’re lying about someone and a jury thinks you’re lying, you don’t have to be protected that way, and it won’t quell your right to speak from the First Amendment,” said John Cohen, a professor of law at Widener University. Delaware Law School.

The jury found both Heard and Depp liable for defamation because their status as public figures only highlights the unique nature of this particular case. Experts said the plethora of contradictory evidence and the social media circus surrounding the trial made this case an “exceptional case” compared to other defamation trials.

“This issue is so supremacist in so many ways that I wonder what its impact is,” Culhane said.

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