Serial, Season 1, Episode 1: The Sausage Factory of Criminal Law

02_1xThis week our Law learning community has been introduced to two things: Criminal Law and the sensational podcast Serial. We were all mesmerized by Episode 1 and I thought everyone was going to attack me when I turned it off for “discussion.” Lesson learned.

We also spoke today of the Sausage Factory of Criminal Law, that is the process of the criminal justice system and how if at any point the system is compromised or misguided, the result will be poisoned. Here is diagram:


How does the series Serial connect with the notion of the Sausage Factory? Can you find other examples of Canadian cases where a misstep or poisoning of the process resulted in a bad outcome? What are the critical stages where something can go wrong? How might we improve the situation?

What of Louis Riel’s or David Milgaard‘s trials? At what point in the Sausage Factory did something go wrong?

Be thoughtful, use evidence, and respond to your colleagues with positivity.

Here is a link to an interview with the Adnan Seyid’s family:


10 thoughts on “Serial, Season 1, Episode 1: The Sausage Factory of Criminal Law

  1. The criminal justice system is very complex with many steps where accidents can be made. In the case of Adnan there are a couple steps within the sausage factory that ultimately lead to Adnan’s imprisonment such as the police investigation and the trial itself.

    The first of the steps that I believe was poisoned was the second step of the case, the police. This step is basically the police investigation where they collect all evidence, both direct and indirect, that eventually should lead to reasonable cause. This is when they can lay a charge. Based on the first episode of of Serial, we do not hear too much about this aspect of the case. But I am lead to believe that there was not very much direct evidence gathered by the police. The majority of evidence we hear about is indirect, or circumstantial. This is the first error in this murder case as is can get very messy when you don’t have a lot of direct evidence. I would imagine it would be hard to win a trial with a case that is mostly circumstantial, but not in this case I suppose.

    The next step that I believe was potentially poisoned would be the trial. This is four steps later, but a very important one. The trial was based on basically thirty minutes out of one day of Adnan’s life. These are the thirty minutes that lined up with Jay’s story of Adnan’s murderous plan, and Adnan did not have an alibi. Jay’s timeline was basically the state’s entire case. Adnan claims he could not remember, because it was just another day. These thirty minutes were when Hae was murdered by strangulation. This step can be made or broken by what the lawyers decide to include in their testimonies. Adnan could have potentially be cleared if his lawyer would have at least contacted Asia, a girl who claimed to have been in the library with Adnan during the specified period of time. If this would have been successfully addressed, Jay’s timeline could have been brought down.

    This is just one example of a case where there have been possible missteps in the sausage factory of law. There are possible errors that can occur in almost every step of the factory, but there is no room for error in the justice system. This is why we must have professionals in the field that can handle every step of the “factory” in an adequate way so that we uphold the criminal justice system.

  2. I completely agree with what has been said by Hannah Gibb. Everything makes complete sense and I can only reiterate what she has stated.

    The Criminal Justice System has many steps that are complex and can easily be confused or mixed up. The police step is the first step that may be tainted. There is barely any direct evidence. The only evidence was from other people. And not even people who were directly involved. This case is mainly circumstantial. Jay’s story is the base of the whole case. The whole trial is based on what Jay has said. If only one person’s story is considered, then how can we assure that it is completely accurate?

    Asia, who is a distant friend of Adnan’s, had supposedly spoken with Adnan in the library that day. The day of Hae’s death. Is it possible that the conversation between Asia and Adnan had occurred while Adnan was supposedly strangling Hae? How is this possible? Could Asia’s side bring the case down?

    Many things contribute to possible mistakes or hiccups in the sausage factory.

  3. Going on what has been said already, I completely agree. Based on the sausage factory system, the case seemed to have some issues with it. The amount of evidence that has been found and used is simply not enough to charge Adnan with murder. A majority of the evidence found was indirect and the basis of the charge was found within Jay’s questioning. This is clearly not enough evidence to base Adnan’s trial and conviction on.

    Another part of Adnan’s case that had some issues with it, based on the sausage factory system, was the trial. The majority of the evidence brought forward was based on Jay’s testimonial and clearly lacked sufficient evidence. Another flaw was that one of Hae’s friend, Asia supposedly said that she was with Adnan at the time of the murder thus supporting that he didn’t do it, but a lack of effort on the lawyer’s part resulted in Asia not being contacted.

    In order to improve these situations, in the future there should be more evidence and a more thorough and though out trial.

    With reference to David Milgaard’s case, a clear flaw was that the report and evidence was not thorough enough and the timeline of his arrival and the time of the murder did not line up with the actual murder timeline.

  4. When dealing with a complex criminal case, there are many things that could go wrong. Certain factors can determine the outcome, and even the slightest piece of evidence could completely turn the case around. It is important to hear from every person involved to see different perspectives. If two testimonies clash with each other, then there is obviously some false information somewhere along the line.

    Without much direct evidence it is hard to find the truth. The stories of other people must be depended on. In the case of Adnan, his friend Jay explained that Adnan had planned to kill Hae and that he was actually with him driving in the car that had her body in the trunk. Jay’s timeline of events was the evidence that was focused on, but hearing Asia’s story could’ve changed the outcome of the trial. She claimed that Adnan was in the library with her at that time. The investigation stage had some flaws.

    It is important that enough clear evidence is provided and that there are no errors in the “sausage factory,” so that no innocent people are wrongfully sentenced, and no guilty people are let off the hook.

  5. David Asper’s Criminal Law Sausage Factory is the process of the crime through the legal system from the initial criminal act to the appeal finality. As a societal construction, human error could potentially occur at any point, and could result in the conviction of an innocent person or the release of a guilty person. Serial’s connection to this process is that the host revisits the process of Adnan Syed’s case through the legal system, looking for any mistakes that could have been made by the police, prosecution or even the defense. The main question throughout this programme is “Was a man wrongfully convicted?” Sarah Koenig, the host of the programme, reviews the events leading up to the crime as well as any evidence from witnesses or any proof from physical evidence. She also looks for new evidence that could prove Adnan to be innocent including following leads on security camera’s in a library that could place Adnan somewhere else at the time of Hae’s death. In addition, Koenig investigates any motive Adnan’s defense lawyer would have for poisoning the case for monetary benefit.
    The case of Omar Khadr is a more recent, Canadian example of a misstep in due process. Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen who was captured at the age of 15 on July 27, 2002 by American forces in Afghanistan. He was detained, interrogated and sent to Guantanamo Bay and was convicted of killing a U.S. medic by throwing a hand grenade and planting mines that targeted U.S convoys. What is interesting about this case is that Omar Khadr was never charged with a U.S criminal offence, or any internationally recognized war crimes. Many years after being captured, he was charged with offences under the then new 2006 Military Commissions Act, a forbidden prosecution for offences created after the fact in international law. The misstep occurred in the lack of action Canada took to make sure that the suspect was given a fair trial and sentence based on mental history and possible emotional trauma of being a child soldier. The Canadian government, although implored to do so by the Supreme Court, did not take charge when rehabilitation was not offered to Khadr as part of his sentence. A lack of action if mistakes during the process occur is a poisoning of the system in itself.

    • PART 2

      As proven in Syed’s case on Serial and the trials of David Milgaard and Louis Riel, the most critical stage where something can go wrong can vary greatly. However, in the first two cases, the misstep was seen in the collection of evidence.
      Both cases relied heavily on the account of witnesses. In Syed’s case, the prosecution relied on the testimony of his friend Jay, most of which was questionable and was constantly changing.
      David Milgaard’s case relied heavily on the accounts of his travelling companions Ron Wilson and Nichol John. Both of who gave statements to the police, collected rewards and later recanted their statements. Ron Wilson claimed he was under the influence of drugs and was pressured by police to accuse Milgaard of the murder in order to protect himself from suspicion. In addition, another witness, Cardrain, who testified to have seen blood on Milgaard’s clothes was later invalidated by his brother who said that he had imagined other visions at the time concerning David Milgaard and Gail Miller.
      Most interestingly, a poisoning of the process is evident in David Milgaard appeals process. Milgaard appealed the conviction several times but was blocked by bureaucracy and by stubbornness on the part of the justice system in Saskatchewan to admit their own guilt. His formal application was finished in 1988 and was not even considered until 1991 after a Liberal MP addressed Parliament on the issue.
      There is also evidence of poisoning on Syed’s case from his own defence counsel. His defence lawyer at the time of the original trial, Cristina Gutierrez, was later disbarred for mishandling client money. A friend of Syed thought the attorney had thrown the case on purpose in order to get more money for the appeal.
      In the infamous case of Louis Riel, the sausage factory failed him before the trial began. More specifically, the quiet movement of the trial from a mixed Métis and White jury in Manitoba, to an all-white Jury in Saskatchewan ultimately cost Riel his life because of underlying bias within that community.
      Unfortunately, there are no simple solutions to such problems facing society, however the situation could be improved if the courts took more time checking up on evidence that would come up in the trial and taking time to determine if witnesses are bringing valid statements to the court. A background check on criminal or mental history could help the courts determine which statements should be considered admissible.

  6. When dealing with a criminal case, there are many different factors involved, this also means there are several things that could go wrong. In respect to the first episode of Serial, the notion of the sausage factory definitely applies. Just like any criminal case, the crime is committed, the police get involved and begin investigating and searching for evidence, charges are applied to suspects, etc. However, criminal cases do not usually go so smoothly. If one ingredient in the sausage factory is wrong the whole batch of sausages becomes poisoned.

    In the first episode of Serial, Adnan’s friend Jay, tells the police his version of the story. When the police tell Adnan how Jay described the crime, Adnan didn’t even say something like, “that is not exactly what happened”, or “that’s not how it went”, Adnan goes with saying, “none of this happened”, implying that he did not even commit the murder and everything that Jay said is not true. This made everything so much more confusing. Who is telling the truth? What is the real story? Whoever is lying is tainting the process of the case.

    I did some research of where a misstep or poisoning of the process resulted in a bad outcome. “A former Massachusetts crime lab chemist accused of mishandling evidence affecting hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of criminal cases was sentenced Friday to three to five years in prison after pleading guilty to 27 counts” (CNN). Annie Dookhan was arrested last year because she was cutting corners while performing chemical tests. “Dookhan also was accused of falsely claiming, while testifying as an expert witness at a criminal trial, that she has a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts. A defendant’s conviction was overturned because of this, and authorities allege he killed someone in May, after his release” (CNN). This case shows that each and every aspect of a case is so crucial otherwise horrible consequences can occur.

    I agree with a statement Giordy has made where she states that “without much direct evidence it is hard to find the truth”. Having an eye witness is a very powerful source of evidence. But it becomes tricky when you have multiple eye witness’s but different versions of the story. One of the most critical parts to a criminal case is evidence. When things don’t begin to match up, it becomes a very tricky situation. To improve the situation it would be a good idea to find more witness’s and see which stories match up. Or if you feel your suspects are lying, possibly offering a plea bargain would save time and money and get justice served faster.

  7. I believe that everything said so far has been on point, the biggest point on the case is the lack of evidence.

    The police does not simply have enough evidence to charge Adnan with murder. Also, lots of evidence that was found was indirect and cannot be used to build a strong case against him. Jay’s story is really the entire argument that would be used if they were to charge Adnan, although Hae’s story goes against this. The whole case would turn into Jay’s word against Hae’s word, and one person’s word against another’s is not enough to charge someone.

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