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Justice Was Delivered in the Robert Blake Case
November 21, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

These days, when it comes to a case involving a celebrity, it looks as though victims can thank their lucky stars for the civil court system.

Eight months ago the public at large and the Bakley family in particular were stunned at Robert Blake's acquittal in the murder of his wife, Bonnie Bakley. The children of victim Bakley filed a civil lawsuit in 2002 in order to hold Blake responsible for the death of their mother.

The jury in the criminal case came to a starkly different verdict from the one arrived at in the civil version of the case. While the jury in the criminal case acquitted the "Beretta" star, the jury in the civil case found Blake liable for the slaying and also slapped him with an order to pay a whopping $30 million.

Blake's story was that on the night of Bonnie's murder he left his wife alone in the car while he went to get a gun that he had accidentally left in a booth at a restaurant where the two had dined. When he returned to the car, Bonnie had already been shot.

Apparently, Blake's wife had been shot with the same caliber firearm as the one the actor carried. In the civil lawsuit, the plaintiff's theory was that Blake had felt trapped into marriage by Bakley's pregnancy and had decided to murder her in order to raise his daughter by himself.

Blake's lawyer argued that there was a host of people who wanted Bakley dead. He even suggested that Christian Brando, Marlon Brando's son, had killed Bakley because she had claimed Brando had fathered her child.

Unlike in the criminal trial, in the civil trial Blake actually testified in order to deny the allegations.

The jury didn't like what they saw or heard when Blake took the stand. Jury foreman Bob Horn said the jury believed that "Mr. Blake was probably his worst enemy on the stand."

If you feel as if you're having a judicial déjà vu, there's a good reason.

O.J. Simpson slipped away from criminal liability for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. The ex-football star was later held responsible for the deaths by a civil jury.

Amazingly, the press sought O.J.'s legal commentary on the most recent Blake verdict.

Simpson told The Associated Press that he and Blake had experienced a form of "double jeopardy."

"I still don't get how anyone can be found not guilty of a murder and then be found responsible for it in any way, shape or form," Simpson said. "If you're found not guilty, how can you be found responsible? I'd love to hear how that's not double jeopardy."

Evidently, the lawyers on O.J.'s "dream team" failed to explain to him the differences between criminal and civil procedure.

Double jeopardy does not apply to civil cases. It is contained in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution and reads as follows: "Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."

Civil cases generally seek monetary damages and do not involve "life and limb."

Other differences exist between the two types of cases, with civil cases frequently being more favorable to victims. For example, the burden of proof for a civil plaintiff is lower than that of a criminal prosecutor.

Unlike Blake's criminal trial, where 12 jurors had to unanimously decide guilt, the standard being "beyond a reasonable doubt," the civil case required only 9 of 12 jurors to deem by a "preponderance" or majority of the evidence that Blake was responsible.

Simpson and Blake were hit with similar amounts of damages ($33.5 million in damages against Simpson and $30 million against Blake).

"It was too coincidental," O.J. theorized.

Coincidentally, both celebrity defendants claim to be broke.

Without the civil law to turn to, these highly publicized adjudications too often leave victims without any further recourse. Fortunately, this was not the case in the O.J. and Blake sagas.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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