EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

'Serial': How Adnan Syed Could Win His Retrial

Yesterday, Amelia McDonell-Parry published a great article in Rolling Stone titled, "'Serial': How Adnan Syed Could Win His Retrial." She interviewed me for the article, which covers a number of topics such as CrimeStopppers and lividity.



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I can't imagine being in Adnan's shoes if he was offered an Alford Plea, but I can't help but think that I would not want any part of it. It let's the State off of the hook and allows the "convicted felon" tag to follow Adnan around for the rest of his life.

Personally Colin, I don't believe for a second that the State has even the slimmest of chances to win upon a retrial. The cell phone evidence is would be thrown out and thus the supposedly "incriminating" 7 p.m. hour phone calls would become useless. Jay's testimony would be absolutely shredded in cross and he would look both foolish and a far better "prime suspect" in the murder than Adnan. Add in Asia's testimony and I just don't see where the State would go. I haven't even mention the fact that we now know that Hae's letter to Don was from the previous week during the wrestling match that the State mentioned as being the same day as Hae's murder. An on and on we could go.

I personally HATE the Alford Plea. It's become the go-to for the State to offer freedom, while simultaneously allowing them not to admit they are wrong. They drag the process out, knowing full well that as the possibility of being exonerated increases, it forces the defendant to decide whether the upside of being free tomorrow is better despite the fact that the case is still closed and prosecutors can still say they "got their man", in exchange for being truly exonerated.

If I'm Adnan, I look at it this way; A few years ago I was fully convinced that I was never going to get out. I'm playing with house money now. The state doesn't want to try this case again. It may take a couple more years to get to trial, but if it does, I fully believe I'm walking out of that court room truly free in every sense of the word, not just "technically" free.

Posted by: mike | Jul 19, 2016 9:22:15 AM

Mike: A retrial isn't a slam dunk for Adnan. Remember that he was convicted with Jay's testimony and the cell evidence. Even throwing out the cell evidence, a jury might choose to believe Jay.

I do agree that 17 years is such a long time, a couple more isn't very significant. But an Alford Plea is the safest way out of prison for him at this point. If it was me, I would go full steam into a retrial. Like you said, it's house money now.

Though it is odd to keep reading Rabia say he's accepting any plea that gets him out, but then jumping all over the media when they call him a murderer. If he accepts the Alford Plea, legally he is a murderer.

Posted by: tim | Jul 19, 2016 11:40:24 AM

@Tim, freedom is better than principles I would say. In Adnan's case he will be a convicted felon, but he will also have some fame, a strong Mosque community, and plenty of people already saying they would give him a job. For Adnan the Alford plea would have a much less negative effect on his lifestyle than your average Joe.

Posted by: Robert | Jul 19, 2016 3:32:43 PM

I think that most of the time, there really aren't a whole lot of things that are worth more than getting out of prison if you're in one. It's a brutal place to be. Dangerous. Scary. Oppressive. Etc.

I'm sure there are exceptions, though.

Posted by: pluscachange | Jul 19, 2016 6:45:15 PM

Colin - why would Adnan seek bail versus not at this point. There are various references to the fact that his attorney is considering it. What are the issues to consider? Thanks.

Posted by: fma | Jul 19, 2016 10:03:00 PM

Colin, didn't the timing of the Crimestoppers payout coincide with Jay's indictment, rather than Adnan's?

Posted by: KC | Jul 20, 2016 2:45:38 AM

Colin, is there a reason Justin Brown can't supplement any future postconviction appeals with a motion to address the Crimestoppers tip, as they did with the cell tower evidence? Only, the state do mention it in their recent brief, and the information has only recently come to light - why can the info only be subpoenaed at a retrial as per the article?

Posted by: Cupcake | Jul 20, 2016 9:27:07 AM

I'd love to see someone challenge the constitutionality of Alford pleas being used the way it appears they're currently being used, i.e. so that corrupt and/or inept police and prosecutors can walk away from their misconduct without it being exposed and still inflict upon the possibly-innocent accused to spend the rest of their life as a convicted felon.

One thing I noticed when I Googled "Alford pleas" just now (Wikipedia, so question the accuracy) was, "The (US Supreme) Court ruled that the defendant can enter such a plea 'when he concludes that his interests require a guilty plea and the record strongly indicates guilt'. The Court allowed the guilty plea with a simultaneous protestation of innocence only because there was enough evidence to show that the prosecution had a strong case for a conviction, and the defendant was entering such a plea to avoid this possible sentencing."

That makes me wonder about the appropriateness of offering an Alford plea in Adnan's case since the State has virtually no case to try at this point, let alone "a strong case for conviction". If that statement is true, how could an Alford plea be on the table when the State has no case?

Posted by: Eric Wolff | Jul 20, 2016 12:31:17 PM

I Think people is focusing a bit too much on the wording of the plea. The state has the upper hand and the only way you can claim innocence and walk free from a case that has crasched and burned is to humiliate yourself and give them th win. It's messed up, but the best there is at this Point.

Posted by: Lars in Sweden | Jul 21, 2016 1:16:11 AM

mike: I understand your thinking, but Adnan is also approaching the point where half of his life has been spent in prison. It’s a tough choice.

tim: Technically, that would be true, but I don’t think that most people would look at him that way with an Alford Plea.

Robert: Right. Having a felony conviction on his record wouldn’t hurt him as much as others.

fma: I think he will definitely seek bail.

Cupcake: It could be raised at a subsequent PCR or retrial, but it was beyond the scope of the remanded PCR.

Eric: I understand your position. On the other hand, not allowing an Alford Plea under these or similar circumstances could have some serious adverse consequences for the wrongfully convicted.

Lars: Indeed.

Posted by: Colin Miller | Jul 22, 2016 4:20:37 AM

It would be great if an Alford plea was only accepted following some kind of mandatory reinvestigation - possibly from an outside law enforcement agency.

Posted by: Cupcake | Jul 23, 2016 1:48:18 AM

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