While people may call the O.J. Simpson case “the trial of the century,” one of his lawyers doesn’t think it ranks as one of the most important cases of the 20th century.
“It was a highly publicized trial that established no real important legal principles,” his former lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, told Business Insider.
As an appellate adviser for Simpson’s defense, Dershowitz helped get Simpson acquitted of the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman, in 1995.
But despite his opinion that the case didn’t introduce any novel legal principle, Dershowitz still believes the trial helped change the way police behaved in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) was widely perceived as rife with corruption, police brutality, and racism during the 1990s.
The high-profile case against O.J. Simpson — which was broadcast into many Americans’ living rooms — may have contributed to the LAPD’s bad reputation. Simpson’s team accused police in Los Angeles of mishandling evidence and even planting a notorious bloody glove at Simpson’s estate.
“I think it was the first time the LA Police Department was caught doing what it they had been doing for years and that is framing ‘guilty’ people,” Dershowitz said. “In their minds O.J. was guilty, and therefore it was OK to frame him.”
In one of the more dramatic moments from the trial, the defense team had Simpson try on the notorious glove. It appeared too small for his hand, leading to the suggestion that police may have planted it.
In perhaps the most quotable line of the trial, lead attorney Johnnie Cochran famously exclaimed, “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit.”
The defense argued similarly that police had smeared some of Simpson’s blood on a sock collected at the crime scene to prove he committed the murders.
“I think it was a very common modus operandi in Los Angeles for police to frame people they thought were guilty; to drop drugs near drug dealers, to put guns on people who they thought probably had guns,” Dershowitz said.
Cochran agreed, calling the LAPD lab “cesspool of contamination” during the trial.
Dershowitz asserts that claims during the O.J. Simpson trial that the LAPD lied and planted evidence were pivotal to the department’s improvement over the past two decades.
The LAPD had already gotten some bad press by the time Simpson was tried. Just a few years earlier, in 1991, the beating of Rodney King ignited the fury of many LA citizens.
King was a taxi driver who was beaten by four police officers following a high-speed chase. The beating was caught on camera by a local witness and sent to the media. The video footage shocked and horrified people around the world, and further inflamed racial tensions in LA.
All that tension gave way to federal oversight of the LAPD in 2000, when the US Department of Justice entered into a consent decree that allowed for a five-year oversight of the department’s reform process.
The Justice Department said the LAPD was “engaging in a pattern or practice of excessive force, false arrests, and unreasonable searches and seizures in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.”
“I think LAPD is a lot cleaner today than it was back then,” Dershowitz said.