- A juror spoke out that Amber Heard wasn’t believable on the stand.
- Trauma experts told Insider that how a survivor emotes on the stand isn’t an indicator they’re lying.
- They said how trauma survivors present while recounting their experience can vary greatly.
At the end of every trial in the United States, jurors have to decide how credible each witness was based on what they said and the other evidence in the case.
After the verdict in the six-week-long defamation case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard was announced, one juror said that the actress lost the case because of how she acted on the stand and because her “crocodile tears” when she said Depp beat her weren’t “believable.”
But trauma experts say that you shouldn’t judge a witness’s credibility based on how they act during their testimony.
Like soldiers, victims of sexual or domestic abuse may not look or act as expected when they talk about their trauma, they said.
Dr. Kate Porterfield, a clinical psychologist at the Bellevue Hospital Program for Survivors of Torture in New York City, told Insider that some survivors may act scared, angry, or upset when they talk about their experience, but then quickly “flip” as their body tries to calm the anger.
Porterfield, who works at Columbia University’s Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, said that this makes the person seem “flat, detached, and disconnected.” “It’s hard for juries to understand all of this because it seems strange that someone could look flat or even bored, or that someone would have trouble remembering details of something horrible she went through.”
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Understanding Trauma And Being Capable Of Empathy
Depp sued Heard for defamation after she wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post in which she talked about being abused at home. Even though Depp’s name wasn’t mentioned, most people thought the article was about him. Depp’s $50 million lawsuit says that Heard made up an incident in which she said Depp beat her, even though she had verbally and physically attacked him many times.
Heard denied the allegations and sued Depp for $100 million, saying that Depp’s lawyer, Adam Waldman, slandered her by calling her claims of abuse by Depp a “hoax.”
She also said that Depp hit her while they were together, which Depp denied.
After almost three days of deliberation, the jury decided that both were to blame. Depp was given more than $10 million in damages, and Heard was given $2 million. Depp is seen as having won the case because he had to pay less money in damages.
When the male juror, who didn’t want to be named, talked about the case on Good Morning America days after the verdict, he said that Depp seemed more honest on the stand.
In the end, a lot of the jury thought what he was saying was more likely to be true, the juror said in the interview. “The way he answered questions just made him seem a little more real. His feelings were very steady the whole time.”
Context Is Important
Dr. Jim Hopper, a clinical psychologist and nationally known expert on psychological trauma, said that it’s natural for people to judge others based on how they show their feelings.
Hopper, a teaching associate at Harvard Medical School, said, “You’re only human, so you can’t help it.” “The question is what kind of knowledge you have. … If they were someone who had been traumatized, would you be able to understand how they might show that trauma in different ways?”Hopper gives training to police groups on how to help people who have been sexually abused deal with their trauma.
Hopper said that he draws parallels between assault survivors and soldiers to help other people understand these people better.
“When police officers and soldiers talk about their military experiences, they don’t always show a lot of emotion, and they might not even want to talk about them to people who haven’t been there and don’t understand,” he said. “People can feel and show all kinds of different emotions, and how they do so can be very unique to the person and the situation.”
In this case, for example, Hopper said, the trial was happening in a courtroom full of Johnny Depp fans.
“There were a lot of Johnny Depp fans in the courtroom, and they were always very rude to Amber Heard and all of her witnesses,” Hopper said. “So it’s not just a question of whether or not someone was traumatized and what that would look like. But what is it like to remember your trauma in public while a bunch of mean people stare at you and give you dirty looks the whole time?”
The case between Depp and Heard is unusual because it was a defamation trial that was watched by millions of people, and both Depp and Heard are professional actors.
But survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other types of trauma are witnesses in criminal and civil cases every day. Psychology experts think it is important to teach the public and jurors about how the brain works when it is under attack to avoid harmful misconceptions.
“A couple of my clients were very upset by the way they saw Amber being treated,” Porter said. “A bunch of my therapist friends told me that their clients were having a really hard time because of what they saw on TV and what they read and heard in the media and on social media.”
During one day of testimony, Heard couldn’t stop crying as she told in graphic detail how Depp stabbed her with a bottle of alcohol during a fight in Australia in March 2015. Fans of Depp criticized her behavior on the stand, and her crying face became a meme because of it.
During the trial, Heard testified through tears that she had received hundreds or even thousands of death threats every day. She said that the proceedings and the humiliation that came with them reminded her of how Depp had hurt her.
In their closing arguments, her lawyers said that if the jury found Heard guilty, it should be seen as a message to “every victim of domestic abuse, everywhere.”
Attorney Benjamin Rottenborn said, “Ruling against Amber here sends a message that no matter what you do as a victim of abuse, you always have to do more.” The lawyers for Depp asked that the comments be taken out of the record.
Julie Rendelman, who used to be a prosecutor in Brooklyn and is now a criminal defense attorney and legal analyst, told Insider that it was always “frightening” to ask a victim to testify when she was a prosecutor.
“They go through a lot, especially when they are being questioned by the other side. You hope the jury makes the right choice if they are ready and know how important it is, to tell the truth “Rendelman said. “It’s always hard for the victim to decide (what to do) because they know they will be questioned about their credibility, which is what a jury trial is all about.”
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Taking In All of The Evidence
Rendelman agreed that everyone reacts differently when testifying and that it might not be helpful to judge a witness’s credibility based on how they act, but he said that it shouldn’t be thrown out of the window either.
She said that the jury didn’t do anything wrong when they thought about how Heard acted in court, and it was their job to decide how credible she was.
“I laugh a little bit when I have bad news to tell someone, right? Because I get nervous, “Rendelman said. “Everyone reacts differently, and it makes me nervous to think that a jury would decide something based solely on how I feel or how someone else does, but it should at least be one of the things they think about when deciding if someone is telling the truth.”
Rendelman said that the jury had more to go on than just how Heard acted in court.
In his interview, the juror who didn’t give his name said that Heard’s supposed lie about giving her $7 million divorce settlement to places like the American Civil Liberties Union and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles also upset the jury.
Even though Heard had said before that she had given away the settlement, she said in court that she hadn’t done so.
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