CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

CrimProfs Offer Insight into the O.J. Verdict, Ten Years Later

This past Monday, October 3, 2005, marked the ten year anniversary of the O.J. Simpson "not guilty" verdict.  Cal Berkeley CrimProf David Sklansky and Temple CrimProf & Associate Dean JoAnne Epps offer insight into the O.J. verdict and its impact, ten years later, in the following article.

From "As an estimated 150 million people watched the live broadcast of the courtroom finale on October 3, 1995, television news cameras captured the vastly-different reactions of black and white Americans, and the images spoke volumes about race relations as the 20th century drew to a close.

JoAnn A. Epps, a one-time prosecutor for the city of Los Angeles and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, told that she believes the Simpson trial presented a defining moment for blacks and the legal system.  "I think the O.J. trial did empower African-Americans across this country to believe that they could get a fair day in court, although for many that realization was tempered by the worry that their day in court would be costly," said Epps, who is black. "But the trial gave hope for many that they could have their case and their voice heard."

Some would argue that the trial and the infamous use of the "race card" by Simpson’s defense team were nothing more than a public spectacle, while others believe it played an important role in getting people to have frank discussions about race.  "The race card spawned a tremendous amount of conversation on race," said Epps, a professor and associate dean at Temple University’s School of Law. "Not all of it was easy, but it was good that we were reminded of this thorny issue."...

"This trial really revealed the extent to which black Americans and white Americans saw things through different lenses,” David Sklansky, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law, told "There was just an astonished lack of comprehension by many white Americans, and there were things that seemed plausible to black Americans that didn’t seem plausible to whites -- like how blacks were much quicker, in general, to believe that police could have planted evidence."

The person many believed to have planted evidence was Los Angeles homicide detective Mark Fuhrman, who discovered a bloody glove near the murder scene. While on the witness stand, Fuhrman also denied ever having used a racial slur, although it was eventually discovered that he spewed the N-word in a taped interview 10 years prior to Simpson’s trial.

'That was an important lesson from the trial,' said Sklansky, who was a criminal law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles at the time of the trial. 'It was a lesson that, despite all of the progress that has been made, we still live in a universe in which black and white lives can be very different. The fact was that police officers that didn’t utter racial epithets in court might very well use them outside of the courtroom.'" More insight from Epps and Sklansky here... [Mark Godsey]

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