In February 1999, Adnan Masud Syed, Hae Min Lee’s ex-boyfriend, was arrested and charged with her murder. The following year, he was convicted of first-degree murder, post which he has been serving his sentence of life plus thirty years since 2000.
Lee’s case only received public attention after its appearance on a podcast known as ‘Serial’ in 2014. The episode was heard worldwide and gained popularity among crime investigation enthusiasts. This increased popularity encouraged other forms of media to take up this case to attract more audience as it did for the podcast.
It is believed that all forms of media, TV, radio, Newspapers, etc., tend to influence general public opinions and views. These have been used as platforms to overturn decisions of grave importance like elections, court cases, bills, amendments, and governments.
Using these cases as content to gain an audience has been a general trend among influencers and big storytelling media channels. More often than not, the facts and pieces of evidence from the cases are twisted and sensationalised and fed to the unsuspecting audience.
The cases that receive extensive media coverage provide challenges for prosecutors, as well as defence attorneys when it comes to trying a case. This can also affect the behaviour of witnesses and jurors. Social science research has found that “exposure to the various media had a prejudicial impact on people, as they were unaware of their biases.”
However, in this case, the appearance of Lee’s case on ‘Serial’ actually helped the case get reopened with new evidence. The argument that was put forward by Adnan Syed was that his counsel was “ineffective”.
According to Daniel Medwed, a Law professor at the Northeastern University , an expert on wrongful convictions, shared his views on the issue. He said, “Even though these types of cases are uncommon if given enough reliable evidence, the outcome of the trial can be overturned.”
He believes that general commentary wouldn’t satisfy the relevance grounds—like, whether the majority of people believe someone to be innocent. The pieces of a podcast that could be relevant are direct evidence, such as statements by new witnesses. The fact that the podcast brought new people out of the woodwork who didn’t comment the first time can potentially lead to some usable evidence.
Although media intrusion in most judicial cases can lead to a lot of problems with unbiased judgement, in this case, the podcast has prompted more evidence at the retrial than at the initial trial. The investigative journalism and research that went into the podcast has uncovered a whole host of things, like cell phone records and a potential alibi witness. A lot of information indirectly might affect the new trial, but the public reaction to “Serial” and comment boards would be inadmissible as irrelevant.