Neither guilty nor innocent: How will the jury return their verdict in the Depp v Heard trial?
The jury in the civil court case is currently deliberating, but regardless of the outcome neither party is in danger of criminal charges or prison time.
The court case between former partners Johnny Depp and Amber Heard began in 2018 when the latter authored an op-ed in The Washington Post describing herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.”
Although he was not mentioned in the piece, Depp has alleged that Heard defamed him in the process of writing the article and sued her for loss of earnings. The case has been heard in a civil court, rather than as a criminal case, so the jury will not be asked to decide guilt and innocence.
Instead, the jurors will simply decide which side is in the right on the balance of probability. Depp’s legal team are claiming that his ex-wife defamed him, if the jury find that this was the case then they will rule in his favour. If not, Heard will be the victor in court.
What is the punishment in a civil court case?
Civil court cases, also known as a lawsuit, are primarily about damages and Depp is demanding a fairly substantial payment for what he believes was a misrepresentation of their relationship.
In the court filing his team requested compensatory damages of “not less than $50 million”. If they decide in his favour, the jurors could order Heard to pay the amount requested, or could recommend that a larger or smaller compensatory payment be made.
One thing that is certainly not on the horizon for either party is the threat of a criminal record or prison time. The case is being Heard in the civil, not the criminal, courts, meaning that there is no possibility of any punishment beyond the compensation.
However that does not mean that the dispute between the former lovers is settled as soon as the jury returns its verdict.
If Depp does not accept the result his legal team could file for an appeal. In recent weeks Heard’s attorneys sought to block the prospect of an appeal but their claim was dismiss by the judge.
There is also a simultaneous case in which Heard is suing her ex-husband for damages relating to this very trial. In January 2021 Heard countersued for $100 million, claiming that Depp had perpetrated a “smear campaign” against her. The suit continued by alleging that Depp’s actions in taking the case to court constitution a continuation of the “abuse and harassment” that she had referred to her in original op-ed years earlier.