The Serial Podcast ( http://serialpodcast.org/ ) took the podcast world by storm and allowed people to really get into the anatomy of a criminal case, from investigation through the consequences of a questionable conviction. After listening to the whole podcast, which unfortunately did not come to a conclusive ending, I wondered if it shed any light on how it is possible for a person to be convicted, even though there should be reasonable doubt as to the person’s guilt. I won't take an opinion either way about the guilt or innocence of the defendant, Adnan Syed, but I do not believe that the DA’s Office should have been able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, as there certainly should have been some doubt.
The question then becomes; did the prosecutor frame the case in a way, leaving things out, to get a conviction at all costs; and/or did Adnan’s defense attorney do a sub-par job, ignoring a crucial alibi witness, Asia, who saw Adnan in the library at the time the crime took place.
Unfortunately, it is all too often that DA’s Offices work to convict the person accused of the crime, regardless of the evidence in the case. There have been many innocent defendants that have gone to jail or executed, only to be later to have their innocence proven. There must be something wrong with a system in which the conviction rate is valued more than getting justice and finding the correct defendant, because justice is certainly not served when an innocent person gets convicted. In addition, there have been countless instances of DA’s Offices withholding exculpatory information from defense attorneys in order to prevail at trial. While this practice is hopefully on the decline, any prosecutor that withholds exculpatory evidence should themselves be prosecuted and face prison time.
As far as Adnan’s defense attorney, she certainly did not provide adequate representation, especially as shown in the light of her ultimate unraveling as the case progressed and she became sicker and more desperate for money. Any criminal defense attorney would pray to have a solid alibi witness to put their client anywhere but the crime scene. It is unfathomable that Adnan’s defense attorney would not have sought that information, and would not have used that at trial. In fact, that would be the cornerstone of my defense, and I would put it in the first line of my opening; “Adnan was not there!”
So after hearing all of the podcast evidence, if the same evidence is presented at trial (and if I were defending Adnan, I would want Sarah Koenig advising me), I do not think a jury would be able to say that they think Adnan is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether or not he is actually guilty, that is another story. Hopefully, the reporting on this story has fueled a renewed look at the evidence, and an appeals court will reverse the conviction and/or remand it for a new trial.
Over the past several weeks, as a result of the growing tension between the NYPD and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, members of the NYPD have refused to enforce “quality-of-life” crimes, including loitering, public urination, solicitation and subway-fare jumping. With the NYPD ignoring the Broken Windows campaign, the number of arrests have dropped dramatically, and with it, the amount of revenue that is usually generated by the imposition of fines and surcharges in the courts.
Although, perhaps the opposite should be true, if the police are not spending their time with the small quality-of-life offenses, then we may not need as many police officers, or the ones we have don’t need overtime. As a system, the cost (in man hours, legal services and incarceration) of all of the quality-of-life offenses, which are more likely to be committed by individuals that are appointed an attorney, is probably higher than the income generated from the fines and surcharges imposed by the courts. So ultimately, the City might save money by not arresting low-level offenders, if it reduces the amount of money necessary to pay to the services required when an individual is arrested.