Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard case study

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Introduction

Johnny Depp filed a defamation suit against Amber Heard in March 2019, seeking $50 million in compensation. Heard had published an op-ed in the Washington Post in 2018 in which she refers to herself as a victim of domestic abuse, and according to Depp, although she did not mention him in the article, she indirectly suggested that he had abused her during their marriage (Rosenblatt, 2022). Consequently, Amber countersued Depp for $100 million, claiming Depp’s lawyers defamed her when they called her a liar and referred to her claims as a hoax (Rosenblatt, 2022). The trial ended on June 1, 2022, with the seven-person jury ruling that Heard fabricated claims in the op-ed that Depp abused her (Rosenblatt, 2022). Accordingly, the court directed Heard to pay $15 million in damages. Likewise, the jury vindicated Heard on her claims that Depp’s lawyers had also caused her defamation; thus, the court directed Depp to pay her $2 million in damages (Rosenblatt, 2022). This article further analyzes facts regarding this case and explores the reasons that informed the jury’s ruling.

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Facts about the Case

Jonny Depp married Amber Heard in February 2015. However, Heard would file for divorce in May 2016, alleging that Depp had physically and verbally abused her throughout their relationship and marriage while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (Rosenblatt, 2022). Depp’s attorney promptly denied Heard’s abuse claims and alleged that she was lying to obtain a premature financial resolution. Nonetheless, the court granted her a temporary restraining order against Depp (Rosenblatt, 2022). Depp and Heard eventually reached an out-of-court settlement in August 2016, and Heard withdrew her request for a permanent restraining order against Depp.

As previously mentioned, Depp sued Heard for defaming him in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed, while Heard countersued Depp for defamation because his attorneys had called her a liar and her allegations a hoax (Arkin, 2022). Furthermore, both parties alleged that they suffered physical and emotional abuse during marriage. This case’s hearing began in April 2022 at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse, Virginia. The jury reached a verdict on June 1, 2022. The jury found both parties guilty of defamation (Rosenblatt, 2022). The jury found Heard guilty on all three counts of defamation. They ruled that Heard defamed Depp by calling him an abuser, making these statements with malice, a more significant offence involving public figures (Rosenblatt, 2022). Regarding Heard’s countersuit, the jury ruled that her attorneys could not prove elements of defamation in two counts. Thus, Depp was found guilty on only one count.

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Heard was ordered to pay more enormous damages because the jury found her guilty on three counts. The court split the damages in two: punitive and compensatory (Rosenblatt, 2022). Punitive damages are intended to fine wrongdoers, whereas compensatory damages recompense the defamed party for loss. Therefore, the court ordered Heard to pay $5 million in punitive damages and $10 million in compensatory damages (Rosenblatt, 2022). However, Virginia laws cap punitive damages at $350,000 maximum (The Cochran Firm, n.d.). Thus, Heard will pay only $10.35 million of the total $15 million awarded by the court. On the other hand, Depp did not incur punitive damages but will pay $2 million in compensatory damages.

Why the Court Ruled this Way

Although the pair accused each other of physical abuse, Depp’s legal team presented compelling evidence of toxic behavior and violence before the jury. According to Syal (2022), Depp’s lawyers focussed on Heard by attacking on her credibility and proving that Depp was the victim. Depp’s legal team presented their evidence in extensive detail through video, audio, expert witnesses, psychologist’s notes, X-rays, and diary entries. For instance, Depp’s attorneys presented audio recordings in court in which Heard admitted that she had hit Depp (Arkin, 2022). Besides, Depp testified that Heard had thrown a vodka bottle at him and severed his right middle finger (Arkin, 2022). In this regard, Depp’s team presented an orthopedic surgeon as an expert witness. Depp hired a clinical psychologist who revealed that Heard had a history of borderline personality disorders (Arkin, 2022). Furthermore, another disgusting fact emerged during the trial: Heard had left feces on Depp’s bed section after a disagreement in 2016 (Kilander, 2022). During the trial, Kate Moss (Depp’s ex) denied allegations that Depp pushed her down the staircase and physically abused her during their relationship (Helmore, 2022). Overall, Depp’s legal team fully captured the jury’s attention with the elements required to prove a defamation case.

Conclusion

I agree with this verdict. Indeed, Johnny Depp showed that what Amber Heard was false and malicious. Depp presented substantial evidence, including expert witnesses, audio tapes, vile text messages, and video clips, which proved that Heard’s allegations in the op-ed were false. On the other hand, Heard’s attorneys failed to overwhelm the jury with evidence to push them to rule that there were instances of domestic abuse by Depp. Therefore, they lost the opportunity to capture the jury’s attention and prove that what she wrote in the op-ed piece was truthful.

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  1. Arkin, D. (2022). Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial: Inside the key allegations. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/pop-culture-news/key-allegations-johnny-depp-amber-heard-trial-rcna30147
  2. Helmore, E. (2022). Kate Moss testifies that Johnny Depp did not push her down stairs. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/may/25/kate-moss-johnny-depp-amber-heard-trial
  3. Kilander, G. (2022). Depp cringes as he describes seeing photo of faeces after fight with Amber Heard. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/johnny-depp-amber-heard-feces-b2061921.html
  4. Rosenblatt, K. (2022, April 27). Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial: Summary and timeline. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/pop-culture-news/johnny-depp-amber-heard-defamation-trial-summary-timeline-rcna26136
  5. Syal, R. (2022). Why did the Depp-Heard libel outcomes differ in the US and UK? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/law/2022/jun/02/johnny-depp-amber-heard-libel-outcomes-differ-us-uk
  6. The Cochran Firm. (n.d.). Punitive damages in Virginia – personal injury, medical malpractice lawsuits. Https://Cochranfirm.com/Washington-Dc/. https://cochranfirm.com/washington-dc/punitive-damages-virginia-personal-injury-medical-malpractice-lawsuits/#:~:text=Virginia%20cap%20on%20punitive%20damages&text=Virginia%20statute%20%C2%A7%208.01%2D38.1
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