Sample Research Paper: An Analysis of The O. J. Simpson Murder Case

The O.J. Simpson murder case is formally known as the People of the State California vs. Orenthal James Simpson. It is one of the most highly publicized criminal trials in America’s legal history.[1] The case took place in Los Angeles County, California Superior Court from 2nd November, 1994 to 3rd October, 1995 when a judgment was made.[2] Following the brutal murders of Nicole Brown Simpson (O.J Simpson’s ex-wife) and her friend Ronald Goldman on 12th June 1994, O.J. Simpson stood accused for two counts of murder.

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O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson had divorced in 1992. The couple had two children: Sydney and Justin. O.J Simpson had severally tried to reconcile with his wife without any success.[3] Evidence collected at the crime scene made detectives and police to suspect O.J. Simpson.  Nicole was stabbed several times in the neck and head.[4] She had wounds on her hand, which resulted from defense attempts. Her throat was cut such that the larynx was visible.   Ron Goldman’s throat was cut several times on all sides. He was stabbed thrice in the chest, the abdomen and the thigh. His hands also had numerous cuts.[5]  Irrespective of the overwhelming evidence brought before the court and the apparent possible motive for the murder, to the astonishment of many, the judges acquitted Simpson.   Consequently, many interpretations of the judgment including judges’ emotional bias and prosecution’s incompetence have been given. This is an analysis of what the case reveals about understandings of murder crime and law and order when it took place.

Observers have termed O.J. Simpson murder case as a major turning point in the Americans’ perception of law and order.   The case was in many ways a perfect reflection of the ideals and values that constitute the American culture, legal system, and racial relations. According to Macchiarola, O.J. Simpson trial was one of the most important legal happening to confront Americans’ understanding of murder crime, law and order during the twentieth century and in general the criminal justice system.[6] For instance, in an NBC poll conducted in 1996, Americans voted the O.J Simpson murder trial as the “the trial of the century,’ thereby ranking it second ahead of the Nuremberg case of chief Nazi War criminals.[7]

The O.J. Simpson murder trial revealed that, both black and white Americans viewed the crime and law and order in general through racial lenses. On the one hand, the blacks believed that their famous fellow black American could not commit such a crime and thus he was innocent. On the other hand, the Whites (whose fellow whites were the victims in this tragic event) believed that irrespective of Simpson’s celebrity status he could commit that heinous crime and therefore he was guilty as charged.   Ogletree Jr observes that, the understandings and views of both the blacks and whites were swayed by their experiences with race and the American criminal justice system.[8]

During the time when the crime took place, the Whites believed that since there were seemingly sufficient accusations and evidence, as well as, possible motive for the murder, Simpson was guilty.   Blacks on their part saw the trial as an episode of another black man being dragged into a criminal justice system that was naturally biased towards black Americans. The only different thing from their past experience with the criminal justice system was that, the accused black American had sufficient financial resources and could purchase the services of the best criminal law experts like Johnnie Cochran, Dr. Henry Lee and forensic experts such as Michael Baden.[9] In other words, the only difference that the blacks saw in this case was privileged black American who could rise up to a criminal justice system that was often unjust, and who could compel it to show its flaws. The case revealed the entrenched rift in America in the way Americans understand race and the legal system particularly the criminal justice system.

The O.J. Simpson case revealed that a substantial percentage of white Americans assumed that on the face, evidence is evidence.   In other words, it showed that majority of the white Americans did not care about who tampers with evidence, if it says that a person is guilty, then that person is guilty. The case revealed that, for the black Americans, evidence is not simply evidence.  Credibility of evidence for black Americans relies on who had it, person who has handled it, what they wanted to do with it, and what they anticipated the results would be. [10] Therefore, this case revealed that white and black Americans understood murder crime and crime in general, law and order differently.

This murder crime and the resultant famous trial portrayed the most observable example of the deep-seated tension between blacks and whites and how they understood the American criminal justice system which is critical to adjudication of law and maintenance of order. The case revealed the contest between blacks and whites regarding the American criminal justice system based along the hitherto largely unchanged racial lines. Even though, most white people misunderstood black celebration, the celebration was not about being happy because a guilty black person had been set free.[11] The celebration was about blacks’ happiness that ultimately a black American had stood up against the frequently unfair system and shown it is flawed. It was a confirmation to their long held belief that the allegations made against O.J. a black American could not be proven in the courtroom and the vigilant eye of the country.[12] For the black Americans, Johnnie Cochran was a reflection of what the American criminal justice system and to some extent the entire legal system was all about.  In many ways, blacks’ celebration revealed their satisfaction with Johnnie Cochran’s brilliant defense of his client against a frequently unfair legal system.   Contrary to what many whites thought, their celebration was not a reflection of blacks’ lack of concern regarding the victims who were brutally murdered. It was celebration of the criminal justice system finally allowing a brilliant American lawyer to get through it when many had failed in that regard.[13]

This case revealed that whites’ negative reaction was caused by their view of the system, which is influenced by their understanding of justice and fairness. Even though, there was reasonable doubt right from the beginning of the case to the end the whites remained adamant that O.J. Simpson was guilty. Many people especially the whites did not see the system working.   Because of their predetermined perception of the crime, law, order and the system they were unable to see that although the prosecution presented apparently sufficient evidence, they could not see that the defense invalidated it with overpowering facts to the contrary.  Many could not see that, when the jury had the overwhelming rebuttal evidence that brought out many reasonable doubts, the system that if you have unshakable conviction that the accused is guilty, you have to find the accused innocent.

The case revealed how the broader American culture and a media apparently divided along racial lines influenced how the public understood the crime, law, order, and the legal system. The afro-American media gave a very different representation of the case because they had in the past seen many black Americans being wrongly convicted.   They knew that sometimes evidence could be contaminated and they understood that frequently black men had been wrongly convicted. The Afro-American press substantially informed the blacks’ perception of the crime, as well as, matters of law and facts regarding the case. Throughout the case there were two lenses through which case was seen, that is, the Afro-American media and the white press lens. Even though, through these lenses both groups saw the same case, they viewed it in drastically different ways because of their diverse racial experiences with the legal system.[14]   On the one hand, the white media convicted Simpson even though evidence could not support their conviction. On the other hand, the black press emphasized on the apparent reasonable doubts and the blacks could not let a conviction happen. The same way ordinary blacks and whites understood the case differently; black and white journalists understood it differently.[15]

This case revealed the unresolved issues of race and justice that informed Americans’ understanding of crime, law and order when the crime took place. These issues were placed squarely in front of the American society. For this reason, the nation was forced to face the ugly part of the American criminal system then. The case magnified the extent of blacks’ doubts in the system. However, the case enabled them to celebrate the fact that in future when there is doubt in the system, African Americans would not be wrongly convicted.

Ogletree Jr argues that the O.J. Simpson murder case that revealed Americans misunderstanding of what the criminal justice system involves. Just like in many murder cases in the past, Americans thought the criminal justice system involves purely pursuit of the truth.[16] According to Ogletree Jr, the crime and the prolonged case that followed revealed Americans’ lack of understanding that the criminal justice system involves search for justice. This means justice for both the victims and the accused. In this regard, justice refers to what can be regarded as fair in the eyes of an ordinary American in the streets with an average understanding of humanity, law, order and the legal processes. Justice does not mean that the system is perfect. Ogletree Jr points out that the case revealed the fact that America has a fair criminal justice system and not a perfect one.   Yet, most Americans failed to understand that because of their failure to understand that fairness and perfection as regards the justice system are sharply different.[17]

The case revealed that most Americans wanted truth, which was elusive to establish not unless O.J. Simpson said he murdered his ex-wife and her friend. The case showed that when a murder crime happens, most Americans expect the criminal justice system to establish truth rather than pursue justice for the benefit of all parties involved.[18] The case revealed that Americans’ wrong expectations in this case were founded on their failure to understand that in a criminal justice system, the only way that the government and the jury have for proving whether someone is guilty of murder is solely via evidence, witnesses and reasonable conclusions.[19] Because of their failure to understand this cardinal principle of justice, they were not able to see that evidence, witnesses, and reasonable conclusions from the evidence presented and the defense rebuttals pointed out that O.J. Simpson was not guilty. [20]

The O.J. Simpson case was a perfect portrayal of the facets that constitute the American racial, social, and legal history.   According to Dershowitz, one of the attorneys that represented O.J, the case stands out as one of the major contributors to the understanding of the American legal system.[21] The case was a perfect representation of how ordinary Americans, as well as, American press understand the legal system along racial lines. The racial approach to matters of law, order, and legal system and its processes in this case explains the distorted understanding of justice and how the criminal justice system works by both black and white Americans. To some extent and most unfortunately, the case revealed that people and particularly the whites preferred and were contented with the old criminal justice system where prosecution does not have to prove a case convincingly. People’s negative reaction especially among the whites was a reflection of a public that was unhappy with a working criminal justice system. The case revealed a section of the American society that did not like a system that requires the prosecution to adhere to the constitution, play fairly with all evidence and prove cases beyond all reasonable doubts irrespective of the races, gender or religions involved.

 

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

CNN. The Trial Transcripts. Available from http://edition.cnn.com/US/OJ/trial/index.html. Accessed 21st September 2012.

Frontline. The O.J. Verdict: The Trial’s Significance and Lasting Impact. Available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/impact.html. Accessed 21st September 2012.

Linder, Douglas O. Famous American Trials: The O. J. Simpson Trial, 1995, O.J’s Statements. Available from http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/simpson/simpson.html. Accessed 21st September 2012.

Secondary Sources

Fox, Richard L., Sickel, Robert W., and Steiger, Thomas L. Tabloid Justice: Criminal Justice in an Age of Media Frenzy. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007.

Frontline. The O.J. Verdict: The Trial’s Significance And Lasting Impact. Available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/impact.html. Accessed 21st September 2012.

Guarino-Ghezzi, Susan and Treviño, A. Javier. Understanding Crime: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2005.

Macchiarola, Frank J.”Finding the Truth in an American Criminal Trial: Some Observations,” Journal of International Comparative Law, 5(Spring 1997): 97.

Price, Richard and Lovitt, Jonathan T.” Confusion for Simpson kids ‘far from over,” USA TODAY, 02 December, 1997. Newspaper on-line. Available from http://www.usatoday.com/news/index/nns224.htm; Internet; accessed 21st September 2012.

Scaros, Constantinos. Understanding the Constitution. Burlington, Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011.

[1] Richard Price and Jonathan T. Lovitt,” Confusion for Simpson kids ‘far from over,” USA TODAY, 02 December, 1997 [newspaper on-line]; available from http://www.usatoday.com/news/index/nns224.htm; Internet; accessed 21st September 2012.

[2] Douglas O. Linder, Famous American Trials: The O. J. Simpson Trial, 1995 [on-line]; available from http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/simpson/simpson.html; Internet; accessed 21st September 2012.

[3] People Magazine, “The People vs. Simpson,” People Magazine, October 10, 1994 [magazine on-line]; available from http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0, 20104089, 00.html; Internet; accessed 21st September 2012.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Frank J. Macchiarola,”Finding the Truth in an American Criminal Trial: Some Observations,” Journal of International Comparative Law, 5(Spring 1997): 97.

[7] Richard L. Fox, Tabloid justice: criminal justice in an age of media frenzy (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007), 25-27.

[8] Frontline, The O.J. Verdict: The trial’s Significance and lasting impact [on-line]; available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/impact.html; Internet; accessed 21st September 2012.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

 

[13] Ibid.

 

 

[14] Fox, Tabloid justice: criminal justice in an age of media frenzy, 26.

[15] Fox, Tabloid justice: criminal justice in an age of media frenzy, 26.

[16] Frontline, The O.J. Verdict: The trial’s Significance and lasting impact [on-line]; available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/impact.html

 

 

[17] Constantinos Scaros, Understanding the Constitution (Burlington, Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011), 317.

[18] Susan Guarino-Ghezzi and A. Javier Treviño, Understanding Crime: A Multidisciplinary Approach (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2005), 82.

[19] Frontline, The O.J. Verdict: The trial’s Significance and lasting impact [on-line]; available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/impact.html

[20] Frontline, The O.J. Verdict: The trial’s Significance and lasting impact [on-line]; available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/impact.html

 

[21] Frontline, The O.J. Verdict: The trial’s Significance and lasting impact [on-line]; available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oj/themes/impact.html

 

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