The world celebrated Adnan Syed as he was released from incarceration after 23 years. As he begins a new life, the question remains: what are the next steps for him? And, what happens to the victim’s family now that their wounds have resurfaced?
the role of race and religion in trial
During the trial, prosecutors used Adnan’s identity as a Pakistani Muslim man to support their claim that he murdered Hae Min Lee. Their angle was straightforward: perpetuate the stereotype that Adnan was another misogynistic, violent, South Asian man. This created an isolated image of Adnan for the jury and painted him as a criminal.
The criminal justice system already works against people like Adnan Syed, and prosecutors and defense attorneys only add fuel to the fire.
This is nothing new when it comes to manipulating the emotions and perceptions of a jury. In criminal cases, anytime the defendant is a person of color and not a member of the Christian faith, their identity always becomes a factor in the trial. The criminal justice system already works against people like Adnan Syed, and prosecutors and defense attorneys only add fuel to the fire.
Both prosecution and defense weaponize race and religion to bolster their arguments. For them it’s not so much about justice, rather it’s about creating a narrative that will capture the attention and the votes of the jurors.
Both prosecution and defense weaponize race and religion to bolster their arguments. For them it’s not so much about justice, rather it’s about creating a narrative that will capture the attention and the votes of the jurors. This is especially true in two situations; when the prosecution does not have enough evidence to pin the crime on the defendant or when the prosecution hides or tampers with evidence.
Attorneys are inherently supposed to be unbiased arbiters of law but stories like Adnan Syed’s prove otherwise. We are supposed to amplify the interests of the people we are representing, not our own subservient beliefs. Our duty goes beyond research and preparation. Influencing evidence, witnesses, and jurors is unethical and poisonous to the legal system.
A defendant’s identity will continue to be used against them in trials. For our peers make up the jury, and given the current state of hyper politics, it doesn’t take much to elicit extreme emotions within individuals. This is why this tactic works so well, bringing in perspectives that we hear on social media and on the news is something the jury can relate to.
This is also the reason the prosecutors in Adnan’s case were able to have success in their case. They created this story and it fit the narrative they wanted to illustrate publicly. Jurors were convinced of the character that prosecutors had created for Adnan, it was not difficult to convince a jury at that time that South Asian men had a culture of being violent and oppressive towards women. The media never portrayed us in a positive light, so the jurors would not have known any better. As long as this continues to work to the advantage of prosecutors they will continue to use these tactics to convict innocent defendants.
the victim deserves justice
While we celebrate Adnan Syed’s release there is another crucial element to this story that we can’t overlook. The victim and her family don’t have closure after all these years. As difficult as this is to come to terms with, Adnan getting justice does not mean that the victim and her family cannot get closure.
And I can’t put into words the grief and confusion the family must be going through. Hae Min Lee was not just a headline, she was a human being. The pain of losing someone you love never goes away and now that pain has resurfaced.
Women who are murdered or go missing are too quickly and easily forgotten by society. We normalize violent incidents happening to women and this makes us numb to news headlines. The fact remains that women like Hae Min Lee could be anyone’s daughter, sister, or mother. Her story is a reality for every woman.
We can’t forget about the victims in these cases, doing so dismisses their story. Women who are murdered or go missing are too quickly and easily forgotten by society. We normalize violent incidents happening to women and this makes us numb to news headlines. The fact remains that women like Hae Min Lee could be anyone’s daughter, sister, or mother. Her story is a reality for every woman.
Now we must put in the work to help Ms. Lee’s family find the murderer. Because prosecutors, in this case, failed both the victim and her family. They had evidence that potentially led to two other suspects, yet they failed to follow those leads because they had their eyes set on Adnan Syed. This is the unfortunate consequence of the prosecutor’s action, failing to do what’s right has now cost the family and Hae Min Lee their peace and security. Their actions ended up causing more pain and suffering than they could have cared to know.
Hae Min Lee was not just a headline, she was a human being. The pain of losing someone you love never goes away and now that pain has resurfaced.
While we celebrate Adnan’s release, we must continue to work with the victim’s family toward a journey of healing. Prayers and thoughts only last for so long.
WRONGFUL convictions are not unique
Unfortunately, Adnan’s story is not unique. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, around 3,000 exonerated individuals in the United States spent a total of 25,000 years behind bars because of their wrongful convictions. The common thread among these cases was official misconduct.
It’s not surprising but disappointing that our criminal justice system is fragmented. There has to be reform within the system and with individuals working within the system themselves. This includes police officers, attorneys, and everyone involved in these cases. But until this improves, we have to continue to support efforts on getting wrongfully incarcerated individuals out of jail. It is not fair for innocent individuals to have their lives stolen from them. Likewise, it is not fair for the victim’s family to be left with unanswered questions.
Adnan’s case like others similar to it are more complicated than we make them out to be. Moving forward we must take a multi-faceted approach and consider everyone’s needs and the role they play. I hope Adnan Syed can build the life he wants. I hope the victim’s family can find peace.