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Will Amber Heard go to JAIL if she loses to Johnny Depp? Experts weigh in as Internet speculates

Depp is suing Heard for defamation saying a 2018 op-ed penned by the latter painted him as a domestic abuser
Amber Heard arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand on July 24, 2020, in London, England (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)
Amber Heard arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand on July 24, 2020, in London, England (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)

The sensational trial involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard resumed on Monday, May 16, after a week-long hiatus. As the case approaches its closing arguments on May 27, many are wondering if the 'Aquaman' actress will face a jail term if she loses in court.

Depp, 58, is suing Heard, 36, for defamation saying a 2018 op-ed penned by the latter painted him as a domestic abuser. While the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' star was not mentioned by name, his lawyers have argued the implications were obvious and damaged their client's career prospects. Depp is seeking more than $50 million in damages, while Heard has filed a counterclaim of $100 million accusing her ex-husband of running a "smear campaign" to ruin her career.


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A source close to Heard's team told the New York Post that the jury "is going to determine damages for both the claim and the counterclaim." However, there is also a possibility that jurors do not award damages to either party.

For those wondering whether Heard will be jailed or not, it is important to note that neither party will face criminal charges or prison since this is a civil case. That said, should Depp win his defamation case against Heard, he would be awarded a "substantial amount of money." Meanwhile, the burden of proof is also lighter in a civil case as opposed to a criminal case, in which the defendant's guilt must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." In a civil case, the jury must simply decide whose testimony they believe to be more credible.

Amber Heard is seen outside court for the start of a civil trial at Fairfax County Circuit Court on April 11, 2022 in Fairfax, Virginia. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

While Heard will not face a jail term due to the civil nature of the case, it's worth noting there are certain penalties for tampering with evidence under Virginian law, which treats it as a misdemeanor or a felony. A conviction for a misdemeanor or felony offense in Virginia may include jail for up to one year for a state misdemeanor conviction; state prison for up to 20 years for felony tampering with evidence; or a penalty of up to $10,000 on a state conviction.

"You don’t go to jail as a result of a civil finding," First Amendment attorney George Freeman of the Media Law Resource Center told Fox News. "The only way what happened so far in Virginia could lead to jail is if she’s accused and convicted of perjury, which there has been no official accusation of and which seems quite remote." And if prosecutors want a perjury charge to stick, they would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Heard "intentionally said something that wasn’t true and knew that it wasn’t true," which is a tough standard, civil and criminal defense lawyer Tim Parlatore told the outlet. He noted that a perjury conviction in Virginia carries a penalty of up to 10 years.

Johnny Depp and actress Amber Heard attend a premiere for 'The Danish Girl' during the 72nd Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2015, in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Christine Pettinger/Getty Images)

However, Virginia-based civil attorney Broderick Dunn told Fox News that law enforcement tries not to pursue perjury charges against people who’ve fabricated allegations of sexual assault as legitimate victims could be discouraged from stepping forward. "There are a lot of perjury cases that could be brought that aren’t to prevent a chilling effect on people with domestic violence claims," Dunn said, noting that it could lead rape victims to fear no one would believe them or they could end up behind bars for in the pursuit of justice. Parlatore added that the case was further complicated due to both Depp and Heard's line of work. "All of the normal ability to judge a witness’s demeanor and truthfulness goes out the window when you have professional actors on the stand," he said.