Love Me Some Serial!

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

I love the podcast “Serial”. Love, love, love it! Every Thursday, I make sure that my iTunes downloads it, as well as the two or three other companion/analysis podcasts, so I can listen to my heart’s content.
For all of you unfamiliar with the show, a reporter from National Public Radio (stay with me, readers), explores the ins and outs of a murder trial conducted in Baltimore during 1999. The defendant (no names here) was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, and sentenced to life in prison. However, as each weekly podcast discusses, there was evidence that was unused; plea deals asked for but not communicated, interesting strategies by both the defense and prosecution teams, and witnesses and accessories that have changing stories as time goes on.
Whether the defendant was or is guilty is almost beside the point for me. Not so with many other listeners – there are Reddit forums and websites devoted to both the podcast and the case, and for those authors, guilt or innocence plays a huge role. Rather, I’m interested in the legal aspects of the case and the trial. Admittedly, the prosecution’s case appears, on the outset, to be quite thin – but they had enough information and evidence to present to a jury, and that jury convicted the defendant.
However, there have been a great many questions about the defendant’s representation in the case. Due to the simple fact that the defendant received a life sentence in jail is enough to cloud all aspects of his legal representation. Tragically, since the events of the trial, the defendant’s attorney has passed away, so she can neither defend nor explain her actions, strategy and decisions she made at trial.
One of the biggest pieces of evidence the listeners and contributors point to is that the defendant now has an appeal winding its way through the Maryland Appellate courts at this very moment. The chief issue on appeal is the argument that the defendant was hampered by the “ineffective assistance of counsel.” A great many analyses I’ve read on the podcast have mentioned that this argument is a result of a number of issues, chief among them being: 1) the defendant hated his attorney; 2) the defendant’s attorney really sucked; 3) the defendant’s attorney should have done a few things differently, and had she done them the CORRECT way, the defendant would have gone free.
According to a recent episode, the defendant had a great deal of affection for his attorney. He relied on her to do a great many things attorneys are called upon to perform each and every day – to be a legal advisor, a shoulder to cry on, a psychologist, an economist, a therapist – well, you get the idea. Further, the defendant’s attorney was not a newbie – she was a very well-regarded criminal defense attorney in the area. Sure, she had some personal issues, but those didn’t come to the fore until well after the defendant’s trial. There are many different ingredients that go into a trial – some you can control and some you can’t control. A great deal of what you can use comes directly from the presiding judge. If your experience tells you a judge won’t like something you say, or won’t let certain evidence into testimony, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. You find out who your judge is and you act accordingly. There are times when it does hurt to ask.
In an appeal, the first (and sometimes only) issue to determine is the ineffective assistance of counsel. It’s almost always a given that, if you ended up convicted, your attorney may have to accept some of the blame. It’s a terribly common issue, and there should be no aspersions cast on the defense attorney as a result of its inclusion.
I should have said this up front, but I’m not a criminal defense attorney – I tried it once and didn’t much care for it. But, as far as I can see, the Defendant, notwithstanding his issues on appeal, had competent representation.
Now that this issue is out of the way (and off of my chest), I shall enjoy the remaining episodes of Serial, and I recommend you do, too!

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