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‘Serial’ and what does Ineffective Assistance of Counsel mean in a Criminal Trial

The Podcast ‘Serial’ follows the investigation of the trial of Adnan Syed in 2000. This Podcast has gained a following with its compelling look into the ineffective counsel of Syed’s attorney in failing to call an alibi witness. Ineffective assistance of counsel is a claim raised by a convicted criminal defendant that their attorney’s performance was so ineffective that it deprived them of the constitutional right guaranteed by the Assistance of Counsel Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Lawyers harm their clients when they do not provide effective assistance of counsel, and the mistakes are potentially career ruining. In Syed’s case, the harm came in the sentence of life imprisonment for the murder of his girlfriend. To this day, the mistakes of Syed’s counsel are being examined in the Maryland Court of Appeals.

A 17 Year Old Alibi

One of Syed’s attorney’s most harmful mistakes was when she failed to call as an alibi witness, crippling Syed’s defense. Alibi witness Asia Chapman claimed that she had a conversation with Syed at the library during the time prosecutors say the murder took place. Chapman was never contacted for her testimony, a move that Syed’s current attorneys say amounts to ineffective counsel. No alibi could be given for Syed, and therefore prosecution was able to convince a jury that it was possible Syed was able to be at the scene of the crime.

Proving Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

A criminal defendant is guaranteed the right to counsel by the Sixth Amendment.  Criminal defendants require counsel’s skill and knowledge in order to be able to successfully rebuff the state’s attempt to imprison them. The Supreme Court established a two-part test for an ineffective assistance of counsel claim in Strickland v. Washington.  A criminal defendant must show two things: counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and counsel’s performance gives rise to a reasonable probability that if counsel had performed adequately, the result would have been different.

Make Sure You Have Effective Counsel

Not all actions by counsel need to be as egregious as those made by Syed’s counsel. Ineffective counsel can take many forms, if you have lost a trial and have any questions whether this raises any Constitutional issues you should seek the advice of a lawyer.  To learn more about your Constitutional rights, I encourage you to visit my Facebook Page which aims to provide useful information about the law to lawyers and those interested in learning their legal rights.

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