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Was Johnny Depp Falsely Accused of Domestic Violence? The Overlap Between Divorce Law and Criminal Defense

The crime of domestic violence is getting lots of media attention this week because — once again — Hollywood is providing a spotlight on criminal law and in doing so, educating the public about the reality of criminal acts and the harm that they cause to everyone involved. Which is a good thing.

It’s only Wednesday, and already there’s a huge amount of international interest in the pending divorce of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, and her allegations of domestic violence as the reason she left her husband and filed to dissolve their union. According to Amber Heard, she was the victim of domestic violence as her husband allegedly threw a phone at her, bruising her face, as well as pulling her hair during a marital fight.

These charges were not made in a criminal proceeding.

These charges were made by a wife seeking to end her marriage under California family law, and allegations of domestic violence within a divorce proceeding can work to skew things like the property division (and things like alimony in states which provide for that kind of spousal support, which Texas does not).

Of some note: the Depp – Heard divorce will proceed without the benefit of any pre-nuptial agreement to control the division of property. Depp didn’t get a pre-nup before he married Heard less than two years ago. As a result, Heard is estimated to be looking at a $20,000,000 divorce settlement.

So, here’s what we have today, which is a pretty common legal controversy in a divorce case involving domestic violence allegations despite the millions at issue and the fact that celebrities are involved.  (Note: “domestic violence” is called “family violence” under the Texas Penal Code.)

  • Husband: Depp’s position is that he’s innocent, these allegations are false and merely a strategy for the divorce case.
  • Wife: Heard’s position is that he’s guilty, these allegations are true and the reason why she’s filed for divorce.



Criminal Case Against the Husband Arising Out of Divorce Proceeding

It was only after Depp’s team of lawyers and publicists went to work challenging the veracity of Heard’s domestic violence allegations that she went to the Los Angeles Police Department and gave her statement.

According to Amber Heard, she was “forced” to go to the police and give a statement after Johnny Depp went public with “vicious false and malicious allegations” against her.

Now, the police are involved and it’s a criminal matter.

From this point forward, Johnny Depp as a divorcing husband accused of domestic violence has to deal with legal fights on two fronts, in two different legal battlegrounds: (1) the divorce fight in family court and (2) the criminal defense fight in the criminal system.

UPDATE:  Within 24 hours of this blog post being published, the Time Magazine article (linked above) which reported that Amber Heard had given her statement to the LAPD was supplanted by a story from TMZ, stating that while Heard’s lawyers (presumably her divorce team) had said she had given a statement to the police, she had NOT.  

Instead, Heard was planning on going to the police and filing a police report but she changed her mind.  Because she loves him.  See, “I STILL LOVE JOHNNY And Don’t Want to Bury Him,” published at TMZ.com a little after one o’clock this morning. Which makes this blog post even more interesting ….  

Divorce Judge Gives Protective Order

To support her allegation of domestic violence, Amber Heard did get a protective order against Johnny Depp. True. However, that was provided by the family court judge in the divorce proceeding. It was not an order given by a criminal judge based upon criminal legal standards.

I’ve discussed how important it is for anyone involved in a divorce case to have separate criminal legal counsel if their spouse seeks a protective order in the divorce proceeding based upon family violence allegations here in Texas.

The gist of this is that divorce lawyers don’t practice criminal law and don’t operate under criminal procedural rules — even though that protective order, if granted, will be alleging criminal misconduct.

If you’re facing criminal allegations, then you need a criminal defense. ASAP.  (Read more about that below in my article which has been inserted here for your convenience.)

Divorce and Domestic Violence Criminal Cases

None of us know at this point if Amber Heard was physically harmed by her husband Johnny Depp or not.

One thing we do know. It’s a new ballgame. The reality is that now the determination of whether or not Johnny Depp was physically abusive with his wife will be investigated and determined in the California criminal system, not in the divorce process.

Depp has been alleged to have committed a crime, a violent crime, and his wife becomes a complainant in the prosecutor’s file. Now the police and the prosecutors over in Los Angeles are going to determine if he should be arrested and tried for this crime.

She’s out of the loop in the criminal case. The power to decide if that case goes forward lies with law enforcement.

Johnny Depp is far from the first spouse in a divorce case to face a simultaneous criminal proceeding based upon allegations of abuse and violence. Other spouses have filed for divorce and alleged domestic violence, and some have been telling the truth and some have been fudging the truth in order to posture themselves in their divorce case.

Criminal lawyers get involved in these divorce situations when criminal allegations start taking on a life of their own, in the criminal system.

False Accusations of Violence Against Spouse: Defending Against the Lie and Stigma

Here’s the thing: false allegations of domestic violence can result in serious injury to the person who is accused. Already, for instance, we are reading headlines like this one in The Mercury about Johnny Depp’s “frantic bid to save his career.”

Nevertheless, accusing a spouse of domestic violence in a divorce case is far from a new trend. There are situations where the allegations are based in fact. And then there are the phony allegations of domestic violence in a divorce, a very real problem that has been going on for years now. For more, read the 2011 story in the Examiner, “A modern family law problem: False accusations of domestic violence.

Steps to Take After False Allegations of Domestic Violence

It’s one thing to deal with violence as a fact pattern.

It’s a very different thing to deal with false accusations of violence as a fact pattern in a case.

More and more, criminal defense lawyers are having to fight for clients who are trying to prove their innocence after serious, and stigmatizing false claims have been asserted against them. Like domestic violence in a divorce case, as well as child sexual abuse in child custody and child support cases.

We see husbands and wives accused of being violent with their spouses; however, the usual pattern is for a husband to be defending against allegations made by the divorcing wife.

In these situations, where the fight is to prove that the spouse has lied about the violence, it’s vital that the victim not wait to fight back. Getting a criminal lawyer on the case in addition to that divorce lawyer can be vital to getting the criminal matter resolved fast.

An experienced criminal defense attorney dealing with false allegations of domestic violence will know how to work with police and prosecutors on the criminal matter. Hopefully, things can be addressed and resolved before any arrest is made. If there is an arrest, then before any trial or conviction.

And of specific importance: in Texas, it’s against the law to make a false accusation of family violence. If it can be shown to a Texas criminal judge that the spouse has knowingly made a false report, then she may be charged with a crime herself.

Prosecutors and police aren’t going to toss aside the fact that they’ve been using their time and budget on a fake criminal claim. Even if it all began long before in the divorce case where the spouse thought it was merely a tactic to get a bigger piece of the property settlement pie and no one envisioned how things could escalate once the criminal system got involved.

For more information, please check our web resources as well as Michael Lowe’s Case Results and read his article:


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