What happens to Amber Heard if Johnny Depp wins defamation trial?

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard

After a one-week recess, Johnny Depp’s defamation trial against ex-wife Amber Heard is back in session. While the closing arguments are set for May 27, the court of public opinion is leaning toward Depp. Of course, the jury will come to their own conclusion once all of the evidence is presented. But people online seemed to have already made up their mind. The hashtag “JusticeForJohnny” has been trending, as well as memes and videos in Depp’s favor. Although the verdict is far away, there’s the question of the aftermath. If Depp wins, as many on social media believe he will, what will happen to Amber Heard?

What is this Trial About?

This defamation trial centers around an op-ed Amber wrote for the Washington Post in 2018. In it she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” Although she never mentioned Depp by name, Depp’s legal team explains her claims in the article match her testimony during their divorce in 2016 when she filed for a restraining order against him. Additionally, it didn’t take long for the public to put two and two together. Depp’s reputation and career took a nosedive. Most notably, during this time period, he lost his role as Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts franchise with Warner Bros and as Captain Jack Sparrow — debatably his most renowned character — in Pirates of the Caribbean 6 with Disney. 

This nosedive is why Depp initiated this defamation case, suing Heard for $50 million in damages. In response, she countersued him for $100 million, saying he was creating a “smear campaign” against her. The trial will determine the damages for the claim and counterclaim, depending on who the jury finds liable. It’s possible the jury will find both parties liable and no damages will be awarded. Either way, Amber Heard is not facing any prison time or criminal charges, just civil claims. Plus, if the jury finds Heard not liable, Depp would need to reimburse her legal fees, a cost that will be determined by the judge.

Who Will Win?

During the case, Depp denied physically hurting Heard; rather he claimed she was abusive to him. Meanwhile, she accused him of assaulting her on numerous occasions. This may sound like a case of “who abused who” but the point of the trial is “who defamed who.” Essentially, if Heard proves Depp was abusive toward her, her op-ed can’t be considered defamation, winning her this case.

As Dr. Jill Huntley Taylor, a legal analyst and the CEO of Taylor Trial Consulting, explains, “If jurors conclude that this was a mutually abusive relationship, some may see her [op-ed] as technically correct. However, other jurors may believe what [Heard] wrote was only a half-truth, and therefore deceptive.”

Secondly, for Depp to win, he needs to prove Heard has malicious intentions in writing her op-ed. “The testimony that she [initially] wanted his name included [in the op-ed] may suggest malice,” Taylor says, “but the timing prior to her movie release may suggest her real motive was to benefit herself.” Advertisement

Therefore, the topic of abuse is vital in this case, and it has created a wide discussion on the topic. Despite how black-and-white, some people on the internet may present the case, abuse is not always clear cut. “Both partners were egregious in their behaviors, and neither seems to realize their culpability,” says Dr. Darcy Sterling, a relationship therapist, and clinical social worker.

Things are always easier to make sense of when one person is clearly a victim and the other a perpetrator. I wish life were more concrete and there was always one clear perpetrator and one indisputable victim, but relationships are comprised of people, and people are complicated. In my 27 years of practicing as a therapist, the vast majority of relationships I’ve seen show problems in both partners.” 

What Will Happen After the Trial?

Regardless of what happens to Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, how will this trial affect the rest of the world? According to Halim Dhanidina, a criminal defense attorney and former California judge, this case may discourage other domestic abuse victims from coming forward. “Any time a defamation lawsuit is successful, it has a chilling effect on speech,” Dhanidina says. “There has always been a chilling effect for victims to come forward and speak out against institutions or entities or people with power because they feel like their world could come crashing down on them.” 

However, a win for Depp might also mean “people out there who would think twice about making statements if those statements could expose them to legal liability,” adds Dhanidina. However, “we don’t want to create a world where people feel like they can say whatever they want even if they know it’s not true. A verdict will have a chilling effect one way or the other regardless of what the verdict is.”

Another potential positive effect of a Depp win could be empowering male victims of domestic abuse, who are less likely to report their situation and seek help. Supporters of Depp argue that his story may help break the stigma against male victims. However, some supporters use this trial to perpetuate the harmful belief that abuse allegations are just ploys to hurt and ruin men.

Verdict vs Popularity

Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see what will happen to the court of public opinion after the verdict. So many have chosen to side with Johnny Depp, but if he loses, will he maintain support and regain his status and career? And if Amber Heard wins, will the public turn and support her? Perhaps the true winner will be the one with more popularity, not the one awarded the actual case. This can also dictate the future societal impact of the trial. All of which remains to be seen.

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