Imagine being a teenager charged with murder. Imagine the victim is your ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. Imagine getting convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Now imagine you’re innocent.
That’s exactly what happened to 17 year-old Adnan Syed 15 years ago. Or is it?
This is the question explored by the phenomenal Serial podcast that originally aired toward the end of 2014. Another attorney turned me on to it and I listened to all 12 episodes in about a week. It was hard to turn it off.
The narrator/producer/journalist dove into the issues of the case head on to try and determine if the jury got the case wrong when they found Adnan guilty.
The question is never fully answered, but the depth to which they examined the case is extremely impressive. Without hesitation, I would hire them as a private investigator for any of our cases.
5 Issues to Consider Regarding the Serial Podcast
Out of the many issues looked at with this case, a few stood out to me in particular as excellent reminders.
Leads in a Case
One revolves around the importance of following up on all leads about a case, no matter what preconceived notion you may have about it. In Adnan’s case, he actually had a potential alibi witness that was never questioned by his attorney or an investigator. As is pointed out in the podcast, there are often instances where an alibi doesn’t check out so the attorney chooses not to use the witness at trial.
However, there is never an excuse to not even talk to the witness to find out if he/she would be helpful to your case.
Timing is Essential in a Criminal Case
Another point stresses how time is truly of the essence in criminal cases. From the point someone is first accused of a crime, there are a number of things that should be done as soon as possible to ensure your rights are protected and that you are getting set up for the best possible defense.
We have a 5-part email series dedicated to this topic.
As you will learn if you listen to the details of Adnan’s case, if a few key things were done in a timely and thorough manner, he may be a free man today.
Communication During the Trial
There was an interesting factor to this case pertaining to Adnan’s attorney. By many accounts she was a tenacious lawyer that truly fought for her clients. However, attorneys must always be mindful of balancing tenacity with the art of effective communication. In one of the episodes of Serial, audio of the trial is played where Adnan’s attorney is cross-examining the state’s star witness against him. Her demeanor is very aggressive, in stark contrast to the witness’ calm and respectful answers. This created the risk of coming across as bullying the witness, which can really turn some jurors off.
Further, her cross-examination of this one witness went on for a period of days and sometimes delved into areas of questionable relevance. This can have the effect of confusing the jury and/or making them “zone out.”
Both the narrator of Serial and some of the jurors she talked to had this same impression/concern.
The bottom line is that there are several approaches/strategies that attorneys can take with cross-examination. Choosing the right one is critical, particularly when the State’s star witness is on the stand.
Right Not to Testify
Another thing that stood out about the trial were the jurors comments about Adnan not testifying.
It is very common for clients to not take the stand in their own defense at trial. Further, there are specific jury instructions that tell jurors that they cannot hold this against the defendant.
During jury selection, defense attorneys also typically do everything we can to ferret out jurors who will hold this against our client. Despite all this, jurors still regularly condemn clients who choose to exercise their right not to testify, as they did in Adnan’s case.
Specifically, jurors tend to ask themselves (and other jurors), “If the defendant has nothing to hide, then why wouldn’t he/she take the stand?” So does this mean that clients should always testify? Absolutely not. However, it does serve as a good reminder of how attorneys must always be cognizant of this inherent bias and continue to find ways to overcome it.
Never Give Up
A final lesson to be learned from Serial is, quite simply, to never give up. Just this month, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals granted Adnan’s request to reopen his appeal.
A hearing is scheduled for June, and it will focus on whether Adnan received ineffective assistance of counsel. The best-case outcome at this point would be for Adnan to receive a new trial.
Overall, I highly recommend Serial. It is not only engaging to listen to, it is also an important story to tell. All to often people get convicted on shaky evidence and forgotten about. That’s what happened to Adnan until Serial came along and thrust the case into the national spotlight.
This blog post barely scratches the surface of what you will hear if you listen to the whole season. But don’t just take my word for it. Learn more and listen to the Serial podcast HERE.
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