The prosecution uses "domestic violence" while the defense substitutes the euphemism "marital discord" to describe the problems between Nicole and O.J. Simpson.
Prosecutors want jurors to know everything about the Simpsons' embattled marriage; defense lawyers say that's irrelevant to his trial on charges of murdering her and her friend Ronald Goldman.Simpson's defense has filed a motion to keep out evidence of marital discord, such as a 911 emergency call by Nicole Simpson and Simpson's 1989 no-contest plea to spousal abuse charges. The motion is to be heard this week.
Domestic violence has been a subtext of the case from the outset, and legal experts are betting that neither side will score a complete victory. Most likely, jurors will be given less information about the Simpson marriage than the public already knows.
"The defense has to engage in some damage control," said Loyola University Law School Professor Laurie Levenson.
She said most judges are cautious about admitting such evidence because "they don't want to convict someone on bad character. They have to say more than, `O.J. Simpson is a bad guy."'
Under most circumstances, evidence of prior bad acts is barred from criminal trials, but UCLA Law School Professor Peter Arenella notes that exceptions exist:
"The prosecution can argue that although there is a prohibition on using prior bad acts, it doesn't apply when you are using them to prove motive or identity (of a killer)."
He expects the prosecution to try to paint a portrait of a violent marriage and Simpson as a jealous husband.
The defense, on the other hand, will argue that the incidents happened long before the June 12 killings and thus are not relevant. A troubled marriage isn't necessarily a prelude to murder, they are expected to say.
Southwestern University Law School Professor Robert Pugsley said he would be surprised to see domestic violence evidence admitted except in an extremely limited form.
"The standard is whether the prejudicial effect outweighs the probative value," he said. "I think the 911 tape and the 1989 plea will be ruled more prejudicial."
The experts said the judge could rule the incidents are too "remote in time" to prove anything.