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Law & Crime Network

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's ongoing and highly publicised defamation case has made headlines around the world, but the outcome of the case will ultimately be decided by seven jurors in Virginia.

Over the course of the past month, the turbulent relationship between Depp and Heard - who began dating in 2012, were married for 15 months, and divorced in 2016 - has been under the microscope in a Fairfax County Courthouse as jurors determine who deserves damages.

The case is based on Heard’s 2018 Washington Post op-ed where she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse,” and jurors are responsible for deciding whether she defamed Depp with this description.

The Pirates of the Caribbean actor filed a $50 million defamation suit against Heard, he wasn’t named by her in the article but claims she hurt his reputation and career as a result of her op-ed.

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The Aquamanactress has accused Depp of allegedly orchestrating a “smear campaign” against her and is counter-suing her ex-husband for $100 million.

This is a civil case which means that no one faces criminal charges or prison.

“The jury is going to determine damages for both the claim and the counterclaim,” sources close to Heard’s legal team told The New York Postand explained the jury would decide damages on who they find to be liable.

Johnny Depp testifies in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit CourthouseSteve Helbor/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

It is possible that jurors may not be convinced by either party which could mean neither Depp nor Heard would be awarded damages, according to sources of Heard’s legal team.

“Jury decides damages and yes it is possible that no damages are awarded,” Depp’s spokesperson also confirmed to the publication.

In a theoretical circumstance where Heard was not found to be libel in Depp’s case, then she would retrieve the cost of her legal fees from Depp, and a judge would later decide on this amount of money.

On the other hand, if Depp hypothetically won his defamation case then he would be awarded a considerable amount of cash.

Though there could be wider repercussions from this possible verdict as Halim Dhanidina, a former California judge and current criminal defence attorney, has warned of a “chilling effect” on speech which could happen in the form of alleged victims being too scared to come forward.

“Any time a defamation lawsuit is successful, it has a chilling effect on speech,” she told The New York Post.

Amber Heard testifies during the defamation case against her by ex-husbandElizabeth Frantz/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

“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,” Dhanidina explained.

“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,” she added.

A big pay-out to Depp would also make people “think twice about making statements if those statements could expose them to legal liability,” the former judge said, but also reflected that “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,” Dhanidina added.

At the moment, the trial is currently on a one-week break and proceedings are set to resume on May 16, with closing arguments scheduled to take place on May 27.

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