Social Issues Could Overwhelm Jurors in Simpson Case
Aug. 16, 1994
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The judge at O.J. Simpson's trial may well have to remind the jury over and over that this is a murder case and nothing more.
Racism, domestic violence, freedom of the press vs. the right to a fair trial, the death penalty, the impact of wealth and celebrity - a tempest of social issues is swirling around the case.
And some legal observers doubt jurors will be able to put those issues aside in deciding guilt or innocence.
''Criminal trials are not political referendums,'' said Loyola University Law Professor Laurie Levenson. ''In fact, the system is designed so that it is not subject to political pressures.''
But she acknowledged, ''In this case, these issues will be part and parcel of the case.''
Since Simpson's arrest on charges of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and a friend of hers, legal experts, scholars, pollsters and reporters have focused on the social implications of the case.
Simpson's arrest for beating his wife and the release of a 911 tape in which she frantically summoned help stirred debate about domestic violence. And feminist lawyer Gloria Allred demanded prosecutors seek the death penalty if Simpson is convicted. To do less, she suggested, would demean women victims.
Defense sources have suggested a racist detective framed Simpson, and polls have found blacks more sympathetic to Simpson and more likely to believe he is innocent.
His trial is scheduled to start Sept. 19.
''There's no way that a jury can evaluate the evidence in this case without the attitudes and perceptions about race and domestic violence influencing them in how they interpret the evidence,'' said Peter Arenella, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
''It's an illusion to suggest that jurors can perform their function in the system divorced from the social context in which they exist,'' he said. ''The reason we value the jury system is that jurors do bring into the jury box a variety of social and political points of view.''
Levenson suspects the defense will encourage outside social issues to continue percolating around the trial.
''Part of the standard defense strategy is to keep so much in the mix that the jury will be distracted,'' she said. ''There are going to be so many undercurrents in the case. The question will be whether jurors can focus on the evidence.''