ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Recalling O.J. Simpson’s Trial—From The Perspective Gleaned As One Of His Attorneys

The death of O.J. Simpson brings back memories of his very divisive criminal trial and controversial verdict.

Americans split over his case largely along racial lines. Many African Americans hoped for and believed in his innocence, while many whites believed with equal fervor that he was guilty.

A turning point in the trial was the glove that didn’t fit. I was sitting just feet away from him in the courtroom when he tried on the glove, walked up to the jurors and said something like “It’s too small.” At the break, I met with him and told him that he needn’t testify, because he had in effect already testified by his statement to the jury.

If he had taken the witness stand, he would have been cross-examined, as he was in the civil case, where he was found liable. He took my advice and did not testify in the criminal case.

The Simpson case was not the trial of the century in terms of its legal significance, but it was an important trial because it revealed the racial divisions in our country, as well as the power of televising trials.

Following the acquittal, I and many others advised O.J. to take a low profile. I’d given similar advice to Claus von Bulow following his acquittal. Von Bulow accepted it and lived a quiet and productive life. O.J. rejected it and lived a life of turmoil, including the subsequent conviction in Nevada for trying to retrieve stolen memorabilia. The Nevada conviction and sentence were clearly payback for what many regarded as an unjust acquittal.

O.J. the man was extremely bright. Like most great athletes, he had street smarts. He played a major role in his own defense. But then he foolishly wrote a book that many people believe constituted an implicit admission of guilt. He also went on TV and social media, which backfired.

I, along with other members of his defense team, was criticized for representing a person who many believed had committed a heinous crime. That’s what lawyers must do pursuant to the Sixth Amendment’s right to zealous representation.

When I was first asked to join the Simpson defense team, I expressed reluctance, because I had opined on his likely guilt in TV appearances. But Robert Shapiro persuaded me to join the team because at that time it was a capital case — he faced the death penalty. When I first joined, many of my friends expressed support, saying that he was entitled to a defense even if he was guilty. But when he was acquitted, many of these same people were furious at me. “Why did you have to win?” they asked. But when a defense attorney takes on a case, you must try to win by all legal and ethical means. The proper role of the defense attorney is still misunderstood by too many Americans.

O.J. Simpson will go down in history as one of the greatest running backs in college football and in the NFL. He will also be remembered for being one of the first African Americans to play a leading role in advertising and in movies. But his legacy will focus on the role he played in exposing the deep racial divisions that our nation is still experiencing.

He will also be remembered for putting the American legal system on trial in front of millions of TV viewers. Finally, his trial will be remembered for exposing the corruption among some Los Angeles police officers. All in all, O.J. Simpson’s legacy will always be mixed.

Alan Dershowitz is professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and the author of “Get Trump,” “Guilt by Accusation,” and “The Price of Principle.” This piece is republished from the Alan Dershowitz Newsletter.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Republished with permission from The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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