Monday, December 22, 2014

Serial Obession

For 12 weeks, we had yet to hear Serial, a story told via podcast week by week. In the four days leading up to the finale, we consumed the entire  twelve hours. It's an addicting search for The Truth in a very sad set of circumstances.

Podcast explained:

When we share this great podcast with people, most ask, "What's a podcast?" According to Wikipedia: "A podcast is a digital medium consisting of an episodic series of audio, digital radio, PDF, or ePub files subscribed to and downloaded through web syndication or streamed online to a computer or mobile device. The word is a neologism and portmanteau derived from 'broadcast' and 'pod' from the success of the iPod, as audio podcasts are often listened to on portable media players." Your iPhone, iPod, or iPad and Android has an app that allows you to search for podcasts.

Look for this App!

So now that you know what a podcast is, know that there are thousands of podcasts for every range of taste. (For example, in the comedy genre "How Did This Get Made" is highly recommended.)

Long Story Short:

Serial takes another look at the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a Korean, high school student in Maryland. Specifically, it reconsiders whether Adnan Syed, her Muslim, Pakistani, ex-boyfriend was wrongfully convicted. The host/narrator, Sarah Koenig spent a year sorting out the police investigation, the State's case, the Defense's strategy (or lack-thereof) and chasing down all of the leads that no one else took the time to address. You can read more here.

The big red flag in this story is that Adnan was convicted on the word of his "friend," Jay. We know very little about Jay other than he changed his story three (3) times, he admits to burying the body, and he negotiated a no jail time plea deal with the help of an attorney who was arranged for by...wait for it...the very detectives who relied on his story to convict Adnan. WHAT?

Another big issue is that his all-star defense attorney was taking a turn for the worst. Her health was failing and she may have blown the case. She died within a few years of the trial, but not before she was disciplined by the Bar.

You can start listening for free here.

Why That Is Interesting?

The first time Ms. Schott and Ms. Plata listened to the pod cast (different days, different episodes), we exclaimed, "WHAT?" more than once. As Criminal Defense Attorneys, the lack of evidence in this case is actually shocking. Sarah is not an attorney, and does not consider or discuss a lot of the points that we were livid about. But there are SO many issues in this case that any one can understand are fascinating.

Although Sarah knows and generally likes Adnan, she tells the good with the bad for Adnan. You learn a little more with each episode, which leaves you eager to hear the next episode. By the end, you realize that you still do not know the depth of mystery in this case as much information could not be included in the hour-long segments. In fact, you learn that some information was intentionally kept from the listeners for good reason.

Sociopath or Not?

For most of the series, Sarah struggles with one key point: Jay or Adnan is lying. Who is it and why? She speaks to many experts about whether Adnan is a psychopath or sociopath. She is very concerned about this. It's heartbreaking to listen to for Sarah's sake. We know, from dealing with thousands of clients that you will never really know the truth. The who, what, where, when and why is never completely resolved. Most professionals tell Sarah, without actually evaluating Adnan that he is likely not a psychopath. You can hear from her questions with these experts that either Adnan is a psychopath or he is truly innocent. It's that hard for her to believe that he is truly innocent.

We get it. As a reporter, as with defense attorneys you don't want to get burned. You want facts. BUT- how do you prove someone did not do something? How do you prove a negative?

Make Sure That They Do Their Job:

No, we never ask if our client did it ...because it doesn't matter. 

The first question in Ms. Schott's jury selection is: "What is my job?" The answer is, "it's my job to make sure  that they [the police and State] do their job." 

One of Adnan's jurors tells Sarah that a reason for her conviction was that Adnan never "got up there and proved he didn't do this." He didn't have to. The Government has the burden to prove that a Defendant committed a crime. If they cannot do that, the verdict should be Not Guilty. 

Not everyone can wrap their head around this concept, not even jurors. "Maybe," "Probably," "I think," are not words that should be used when convicting a person. In Florida, you must have an abiding conviction of guilt. 

When you listen the Serial, it's not overwhelmingly clear if Adnan is guilty or innocent. However, it it very clear that the State did not do their job. They got lucky with a jury that openly did not understand the burden of proof and believed that Jay served time for his part in the murder (thus making him believable). 

It's a testament to our society and the flaws in our Criminal Justice System. It's the best system in the world, but it's not perfect. Too ofter, the general public presumes that the jury gets it right. Too often the jury doesn't understand the law or their job. We have tried more than 60 cases. It's very rare that anyone, even the victim or defendant's family shows up for trial. During homicide trials, there are more attorneys watching than civilians not related to the case. So why are people so sure about what happens during trial?

The Verdict:

Sarah did a great service by bringing this case to light. It highlights the problems with one case, but points out bigger issues. A person can go to prison for life on the word of a liar. It's a problem. There are many, many cases like Adnan's. The problem is that many go unheard because the characters are unsavory and not attractive. People don't want to hear about the wrongfully accused crack addict. They want to hear about the wrongfully accused person who never committed another crime.

Some people were dissatisfied with the show, but we knew there was no real conclusion in sight for Sarah and her podcast. Instead, we are left with more questions. Others loved the whole thing and even did their own research. And then SNL spoofed it! 


For the first seven episodes, it's not clear if there is any hope for Adnan if in fact he is innocent. Fortunately, there is hope.  Sarah teamed up with Deirdre Enright, the head of the Innocence Project Clinic at University of Virginia Law School.

The best line of the series is when Deidre tells Sarah, "“In my 26 years of doing this, I pray for a sociopath, because I never get those guys. I get the innocent ones and I get these dumb 'so me and my friends smoked crack for three days and drank five bottles of whatever and then we got a plan.' That’s who I get. All. The. Time. So, I think the odds of you getting the charming sociopath, you’re just not that lucky." Serial, Episode 7 (2014).


You find out in the last episode that there was a convicted rapist and murderer who was released from prison 10 days prior to Hae's disappearance. He was convicted of murdering another young, Korean woman in the same area a few months later. Deidre again assures Sarah that it is more likely that a serial rapist and murder killed Hae than her ex-boyfriend who has never before been in trouble. 

Keep up to date with the case by following them on Twitter. 

The Lesson: 

"The Truth" is elusive. You would think that the people who were there know The Truth, but they don't. Perspective and memory are fluid, and people lie intentionally (and out of habit) all of the time. We have seen innocent people go to prison for these reasons and more. The Truth never really comes out. 

Six-twelve strangers of varying education levels, and backgrounds that affect their experience as a jury have to figure out The Truth based on testimony of people about whom they are told very little and nothing to consider veracity other than prior convictions. The Defense knows this, but the Government also knows this. You would be shocked at how many people who are facing decades in prison get very low offers to avoid trial. Why? Because anything can happen at trial.

Here at Plata Schott Law, we understand the underlying and inevitable issues of a jury trial. We are experienced in jury selection and we know how to educate a jury on their duty, the law, and the facts of a case.  If you or a loved-one are accused of a crime, you need a team like ours to fight for you. It's not about money. It's about your life. 

Plata Schott Attorneys & Counselors at Law are based in Jacksonville, Florida. Find out more by visiting, 

UPDATE: Jay finally spoke out. Read the two-part interview here. (It's very strange.)