I've seen some great articles on the problems with Serial, NPR's multi-part podcast about a young man who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend in 1999. I'm not here to talk about the myth of the model minority or the model immigrant.
My issue with Serial is that it has become, essentially, Nancy Grace for the educated set. It has sensationalized a very real problem we have in this country: convicting people without the long-established standard of reasonable doubt.* In our country, we have two different types of trials: criminal and civil. Civil courts, where no one is at risk of going to jail, used the standard preponderance of the evidence, or the evidence says it's more likely that someone is responsible than isn't.
Criminal courts, as anyone who has ever watched an episode of Law & Order knowns (so, everyone) use the standard that a person must be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. To anyone who has any legal training, Adnan Syed, the alleged murderer, was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I have no opinions about his guilt or innocence, but from a purely legal standpoint, there was not enough evidence to convict, and this is indicative of a staggering problem.
The number of falsely imprisoned people in the United States is impossible to determine. Amazing organizations like The Innocence Project and the Center on Wrongful Convictions are underfunded and understaffed. Judges do not like to overturn convictions. Almost everyone involved in the legal process has an interested in clearing dockets quickly, making plea deals (even with innocent people) to avoid trials, and are more likely to be aligned with the police.
Adnan Syed is getting this attention because, in Sarah Koenig's own words, he is nice. He is likable. He simply does not seem capable of committing the heinous crime of strangling his girlfriend and burying her body in a shallow grave. Not everyone wrongfully convicted or imprisoned is likable. Not everyone who gets railroaded is an honor student and EMT.
I know, plenty of people who listen to Serial are capable of understanding that this is not a standalone case, and that this is just one accessible example of a larger problem. Most people who read this, by virtue of the fact that this is the kind of site you visit, probably understand that Adnan is not a unique case, that there are many others out there, that our prisons are literally overflowing with wrongfully accused people. But this is the kind of thing that lets us feel like we are contributing to a solution. We listen to Serial. We care about the fate of Adnan Syed. Adnan Syed is now getting a special appeal. We can feel like, as supporters of Serial, we helped get this man a new, hopefully fair, hearing. We got our entertainment from our podcast, a man gets a new hearing, everyone wins.
Who then will stay to help fight for reform in a system that is so stacked against defendants, especially defendants of color, regardless of their likability?
To donate to The Innocence Project, go here:
*I graduated cum laude from a top tier law school and am currently studying for the bar, just to get my credentials to analyze this out.