The Burden of Proof – the Adnan Syed Case and Faulty Criminal Convictions

Very few truly understand the burden of proof in a criminal case – “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  It is a question pondered by many, and the issue with many convictions which are later re-investigated such as the one of Adnan Syed, who in 2000 was convicted of murdering his then girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The podcast surrounding Syed’s conviction, which to many is based on unreliable evidence and an unsubstantiated investigation, went viral and highlighted the question at the heart of every criminal case: what is proof beyond a reasonable doubt?

Like many questions, the answer may lie in showing what it is not.  It is not proof that an individual is “probably” guilty; or even proof that an individual is “most likely” guilty.  Even If there is strong circumstantial evidence that points to one’s guilt, yet there is evidence that places a doubt in a jury’s mind that is based in reason, a criminal defendant is entitled to an acquittal.  In no criminal case in California is a jury ever asked to determine if a criminal defendant is innocent.   It is why a finding of acquittal is a finding by the jury that the defendant is “not guilty”.  In the case of Adnan Syed, the shaky circumstantial evidence certainly raises one’s eyebrows, but it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed murder?

Having effective representation in your criminal case by someone such as Pat Carey who understands the burden of proof in a criminal case, and who has shouldered that burden in thousands of criminal cases, is essential to an effective criminal defense.