‘Serial’ Is Changing the Way We See American Justice

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

There are thousands of podcasts hitting the airwaves every week about all manner of topics. Some talk about movies, others sports, and others still are simply people in a room talking about their day. But only one podcast does what Serial executes to perfection: Depicting a true crime drama with the power to actually enact real change. That change is made through the simple telling of a meticulously crafted story, as we get a look at just how complicated the word “guilty” can be.

Serial follows journalist Sarah Koenig as she investigates the odd circumstances surrounding a 15-year-old murder, the conviction of the supposed killer, Adnan Seyed, and digs deep into whether or not the convicted was actually guilty. Week by week, Koenig talks to witnesses, investigators, litigators, Adnan himself, and just about everyone who played a role in the case that sentenced a 17-year-old boy to a lifetime in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend.

Koenig unwraps details in each hour-long episode as to why Adnan could or couldn’t be guilty, focusing on mysteriously undependable evidence, hazy witness testimony, and the insanely complex maze that is the American justice system. Throughout the show, it’s unclear to Koenig (and to us, the listeners) as to whether or not Seyed did indeed murder his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee back in 1999. One piece of evidence will be presented that convinces the listener unequivocally that Adnan couldn’t have possibly been guilty. Minutes later, Koenig digs up further evidence that seems to lend credence to the opposite conclusion.

Through all the twists and turns, what we have is something far more significant than simply the story of a poorly managed, 15-year-old trial. Rather, it’s a stark picture of all the highs and lows of American justice, and how we litigate morality. Naked Law sums it up to a tee in their contrast of how a legal case is built versus the story Koenig builds:

At its barest form, “Serial” has cast doubt on our ability to estimate moral responsibility and legal culpability, on our capacity to know why people do the things they do and whether — and to what degree — we can hold them criminally responsible.

They go on to posit Serial lays bare the idea that “if there is such a thing as truth, we may never know it.” For a trial where frighteningly large amounts of important information weren’t made available to jurors, what we’re shown is that truth is never more relative than it is within the justice system. As listeners, we have the luxury of second-guessing all the lawyers, witnesses, and other people involved in the trial, but the reality of the situation is that virtually everyone who’s come across this story sees their own truth in it.

The simple beauty Koenig offers with Serial is the face of our own justice system, that we can only fully understand by tuning in and joining her on the journey to discover if a man really has spent half his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Theories abound as to what conclusion Koenig will come to for the final episode airing Thursday, December 18. For those of you new to the series, we highly recommend getting caught up over in this direction.

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