Will 'American Crime Story' Show O.J. Simpson's Civil Lawsuit? 'The People v. O.J. Simpson' Wasn't The End
The trial of O.J. Simpson is a landmark moment in America's relationship with issues of justice, race, and celebrity and now that story is being adapted for television for The People Vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story on FX. The criminal trial of Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, of which he was found not guilty, created a media frenzy, but one of the most interesting aspects of the story occurred years later. In 1997, a civil lawsuit was filed against Simpson by the families of Brown and Goldman, to whom the court ordered he pay $25 million in punitive damages, according to the New York Times. So will the civil trial be included in The People Vs. O.J. Simpson, or just the criminal trial?
The series itself is based on the book The Run Of His Life by Jeffrey Toobin, which covers Simpson's criminal trial and focuses on the lawyers involved, as well as the investigation into the murders. That book does not touch on the civil lawsuit, and for a very good reason — it hadn't happened yet. The Run Of His Life was published in 1996 and the civil trial didn't end until 1997.
So if American Crime Story is sticking to the narrative of The Run Of His Life, as it appears to be doing, then it's likely that the civil suit won't be covered in the series. However, anyone interested in the larger story may want to familiarize themselves with the civil lawsuit. It's an important detail, but also fairly confusing. How can one man be found not guilty of two murders in a criminal case, but be forced to punitive damages for the same murders in a civil lawsuit?
This comes down to a few key differences in criminal and civil trials. According to legal publishing company NoLo, "to convict in the criminal court, the case against the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. " The criminal court's jury decided there was reasonable doubt and thus did not convict Simpson of murder. However, a civil court is not held to the same standards. "The burden of proof in the civil case was preponderance of the evidence — a much lesser burden than is required in a criminal case," according to Nolo.
The New York Times explained this further in its same article, with B. Drummond Ayres Jr. writing, "The civil case ... required only 9 of 12 votes, with the basic legal standard being that in all probability Mr. Simpson committed the slayings." One of the jurors in the civil trial told the Times, that "Finding O. J. Simpson liable of the murders and acting with oppression and malice was one of the easiest decisions I have ever had to make."
The newspaper also points out a number of other factors that may have affected the second trial. The civil case featured new evidence and had Simpson himself testify, which he did not do in his criminal trial. Race is also often brought up in regards to Simpson's trial, and the NY Times points out, "The criminal case was tried by a predominantly black jury ... the civil case was tried before a predominantly white jury." But how large of a role the race of the juries actually played in either verdict is uncertain.
So while Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of Brown and Goldman in a criminal court, he was held responsible for their deaths in a civil court and ordered to pay damages to their families. We may not see that civil lawsuit play out when American Crime Story debuts on Feb. 2 at 10 p.m., but it serves as an incredibly confusing epilogue to one of the most well-known chapters in America's ongoing relationship with justice.
Images: Ray Mickshaw/FX; Giphy (2)