A Book Analysis of Alan M. Dershowitz's Book on O.j. Simpson Trial


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Alan M. Dershowitz’s book , explores facts that may reveal possible reasons why O.J. Simpson was acquitted for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Dershowitz asserts that the Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.) intentionally tampered with evidence and unsuccessfully covered up their involvement with evidence tampering for their own ambitious effort to aid in convicting O.J. Simpson. Furthermore, Dershowitz suggests that the jury acquitted O.J. Simpson because the prosecution’s “star” witnesses Officers Furhman and Vannatter were caught in a web of lies that further questioned their validity as ethical officers which weakened their character as witnesses to a crime. Overall, it is suggested that the jury acquitted Simpson because it was jury’s intention that for a fair trial to exist the L.A.P.D. must follow strict procedure regardless of their belief of guilt. leaves many readers in doubt of the court system because of Simpson’s acquittal. First, was O.J. Simpson on trial or the L.A.P.D.? Second, what kinds of politics were involved and how did it affect the strategies of the opposing attorneys? Lastly, how does that effect our court system?

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We would like to trust the judicial system and believe that it is a legitimate institution we can search for truth. As I read Alan Dershowitz’s book it became clear that the question “Did O.J. do it (murder Nicole Brown)?” would never be answered. Dershowitz argues that “Neither the prosecutors nor the judges were searching very hard for the truth of why the detectives went to the Simpson residence.

They apparently though that the disclosure of that truth would make the proving of what they believed was a more important truth-that defendant was guilty” (48; ch. 2). Instead what would be answered is “Did the police cover up a scandal as an ambitious effort to convict O.J. Simpson?” The Defense for Simpson rallied on that question to persuade the jurors that there was a if the police were proved to have incompetently gathered and tampered evidence that would favor for a conviction of Simpson. Even if Simpson did do it search and seizure procedures would protect him from incriminating tampered evidence that could be used against him. The jury agreed that the L.A.P.D. had grossly erred when “they (the jurists) had been the victims of a police conspiracy and cover-up” (73; ch.3).

What kinds of truths are we searching for? Why is there so much emphasis on the character of the police when the seemingly bigger issue is Simpson a murderer? The prosecution heavily relied on the credibility of Officers Fuhrman and Vannatter even though they knew that Officers Fuhrman and Vannatter lied about suspecting Simpson as a murder suspect. Dershowitz asserts that “The jurors did not believe that testimony [that Vannatter and Fuhrman said under sworn testimony that they entered the Rockingham estate to notify Simpson that his wife had been murdered].” Furthermore the “jury thus started out with the realization -new, perhaps, to some; not so new to others-that these policemen were prepared to lie to them and to cover for each other, at least as to certain aspects of the case.” (72-73, ch.4). The Defense team in cross-examination confirmed that the officers involved in the search and seizure of evidence consistently lied to cover each other up and proved that the evidence gathered was questionable in validity.

The truth was somewhat discovered when the Defense team uncovered the lies that the police had told. The truth uncovered was that the police who were related to the Simpson investigation were not telling the whole truth. Dershowitz also asserts that the police commonly lie because they are able to and because they want to convict people they “know” are to be guilty. By being able to perjure without reprimand is common and a known fact amongst the prosecutors, the defense, and the judges. Why it is acceptable is a controversial question. The police have adopted a system called the “dropsy” testimony in which an officer willingly lies to convict a criminal that he believes to be guilty of crimes he is charged. Dershowitz gives an example when a judge accepts policeman’s testimony because it is “his word against that of [a] drug dealer.” Furthermore, Dershowitz argues that there is a whole system that perpetuates police perjury or “dropsy” testimony. “Everyone is happy with the result. The cop gets credit for a good drug bust. His supervisor arrest statistics look good. The prosecutor racks up another win. The judge gets to give his little lecture on ‘ “rectitude” ‘ without endangering his reelection prospects by actually freeing a guilty criminal. The defense lawyer collects his fee in dirty drug moneyThe public is thrilled that another drug dealer is off the street.” (50-51; ch.3). Why is it so acceptable? Does this act of police “dropsy” testimony endanger the legitimacy of our courts? If planted evidence is to be used to frame an already guilty man it seems that the same technique can be used to convict an innocent man. It is the jury who seeks to decide if there is a reason to doubt testimony. If it is revealed to their satisfaction that there is perjury they have the power to disbelieve everything that this offered to them by the perjured witness: “Judge Ito invited the jurors to disbelieve all of Fuhrman’s testimony when he instructed when he instructed them that a ‘a witness who is willfully false in one material part of his testimony is to be distrusted in others. You may reject the whole testimony of a witness who has willfully testified falsely as to a material point unless from all the evidence you believe the probability of truth favors histestimony in other particulars.'” (83; ch.4). If the Simpson was guilty the police are the ones who let him off, not the jury or the Defense. The jury could have completely ignored anything Officer Fuhrman had to say whether truthful or not. Since he was the Prosecution’s “Star Witness”, the prosecution put their own case in jeopardy.

Search and seizure procedures must be followed strictly to avoid contamination of evidence, possible tampering whether intentional or not, and to secure the original condition of evidence and place of crime. If these things do not happen a fair trial can not exist. Juries have the responsibility to decide what is pertinent and true. Furthermore, the courts further ensure that the evidence be relevant and not tampered by letting it be questioned by both parties (defense and plaintiff).

The question “Why is there so much emphasis on the character of the police when the seemingly bigger issue is Simpson a murderer? No doubt that question entered everybody’s mind and anybody who was even remotely interested. But a trial is more than about answering black and white “Is Simpson guilty?” Procedures in criminal cases do not allow the defense to rise to prove his innocence. It is the prosecution who first must prove that there is evidence to prove guilt. It is the Defense who must knock down anything that is considered questionable or irrelevant. From there if there is enough evidence from the prosecution to give a plausible guilty verdict then the Defense will try to prove the innocence of their defendant.

L.A.P.D. officers Fuhrman and Vannatter were on trial to affirm the guilt of Simpson but by testifying the only thing they did was open the eyes of the public on how crooked the police will operate to protect their reputation and to convict an assumed guilty man. It is this strategy that pollutes our judicial system. The jury of the Simpson case knew that there was ramped perjury amongst Vannatter and Fuhrman and could not convict Simpson because they could not believe the officers.

The Simpson jury has made an example of what could happen if police do not do their respectable job according to strict procedure and to ignore their own prejudices when on duty. Even if police continually lie it is the jury who must weed out the lies and discriminate against those who are caught lying.

The strategies involved amongst attorneys are complex. Jury selection, hiring attorneys, witness selection, and deciding what “cards” to play are all active ingredients in determining who wins the case. Dershowitz illustrates the process well when he wrote about the process of jury selection for the Simpson trial. [Gil] “Garcetti,” wrote by commentators, “said privately that he believed a conviction handed by a mostly white Westside jury would ‘lack credibility”. Furthermore, Harland Braun (an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney) “saw a largely black jury as increasing the odds for a conviction’The blacks might feel an impetus to convict to prove they aren’t racially motivated.'” (100; ch.5).

Jury selection today is arguably the most important factor when there is a jury trial. Choosing peers to judge for themselves how justice should be carried out is an enormous responsibility especially for those who do not have experience with legal proceedings in a trial. Definitions of “beyond a reasonable doubt” must be understood and comprehended by an entire jury. For many of us who sway away from doing jury duty are in essence giving our civic responsibility up to someone else. It is then that we can not discredit a system of jury selection or the courts because of our lack of interest to participate in the process of determination of guilt or innocence of a defendant. The peers who try a case in a jury trial should make up a diverse mix of people who share similar backgrounds to the defendant and who are unbiased or prejudiced. It can then be said that the jury is accountable for their community and to the justice system.

Hiring a specific attorney also plays a role in trials. A case might involve a wife beating and the defendant (the husband) might choose to hire a female attorney to represent him as a way to play to the jurors. It may enhance his credibility as a man who respects women enough to hire a woman attorney. The prosecution may also choose a woman to negate the opposition’s message by overturning the views that the defendant is not what he seems to be. She may also stand out to the jury as a protector of women’s’ rights.

Dershowitz explains this strategy when he wrote: “there was much speculation that [Marcia] Clark had been selected as lead counsel in part because of her experience and interest in cases involving violence against womenBefore Johnnie Cochran was brought on board as head trial counsel, we thought long and hard about the advantages of retaining a woman to play a prominent role on the trial team, especially with issues of spousal discord.” Furthermore, Dershowitz explains, ” We decided if we were to select a woman for these reasons, we would be playing into the prosecution’s theory that this was indeed a domestic violence case” (106; ch.5). It is clear that this strategy would reflect the defenses’ denial that this trial was a domestic violence case.

How does this effect our court system? The way the attorneys try a case outlines what is at issue. Since Simpson’s attorneys refused to “play on the issue of spousal discord” they denied that spousal abuse, to whatever extent, was not enough to convict a man for murder. Furthermore, the Defense team was ready to attack Clark’s strategy by emphasizing domestic violence with the Defense’s expert witness that included a psychologist (Dr. Walker) who is an expert on domestic violence. Dershowitz asserts that “She would have to agree with our assessment that no scientifically accepted research existed that could lead to the conclusion that Simpson fit the profile of a domestic murderer” (pg102; ch.5).

Second, the process of jury selection further ensures that the plaintiff and defense are always left in check. No matter how much the opposing sides try to sway the jury from one point of view to another it is ultimately the jury who is left to deliberate independent of outside persuasions. Since the jury is limited to the court and to each other for deliberation they can not be pressured or biased from media or popular opinion. In essence they are hardly accountable to the public. They are only accountable to the law.

The judge’s responsibility is to ensure that evidence is submitted properly and relevantly. Unfortunately this process may be more subjective than objective. Therefore, if the judge neglects evidence procedure or has not followed suit in observing legal technicality his case may be overturned in the Court of Appeals. This does not favor the judge’s reputation and that could lead to reprimands.

Finally, the attorneys are foremost key players in trial courts. They argue their case, or the prosecution does, and cross- examines witnesses to weaken someone’s case or strengthen their own. Their job is to protect their clients and their client’s best interest. No wonder we applaud prosecutors for putting away the bad guy and boo the defense for putting them back on the street. It is odd that we deplore people who can afford to “buy their freedom” and yet if we were in their shoes we would do anything possible to attain an excellent lawyer to look out for our best interests.

The “battle” between attorneys assures us that no stone is left unturned. Furthermore, the pressure applied by attorneys leaves many questions unanswered which preempts the jury to deliberate with more caution and with greater skepticism of the facts. Expert witnesses are called to either further validate a theory or to tear down one. In either case the pressure for the truth is relentlessly searched for and what may result is not what anyone might expect, like the acquittal of O.J. Simpson.

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