A Canadian Perspective – Serial: Episode 2

January 8, 2015

When the pipes burst at the Ottawa courthouse there is obviously only one thing that can be done – listen to and write about the second episode of Serial.

For those who have been living under a rock, Serial is a 12 part investigation into the 1999 Baltimore murder of Hae Min Lee, a 18-year-old high school student. Lee’s ex-boyfriend and class mate, Adnan Masud Syed, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.  After a six-week trial Syed was found guilty.

My original plan had been to do a top 5 list of my thoughts about each episode.  But there is only one thing to talk about: Motive.

Episode 2: The Breakup

“Their relationship began like a storybook high-school romance: a prom date, love notes, sneaking off to be alone. But unlike other kids at school, they had to keep their dating secret, because their parents disapproved. Both of them, but especially Adnan, were under special pressure at home, and the stress of that spilled over into their relationship. Eventually Hae broke up with Adnan. And then, depending on who you ask, Adnan was either understandably sad and moping around, or full of rage and plotting to kill her.”

— http://serialpodcast.org/season-one/2/the-breakup

Episode 2 is all about Adnan’s alleged motive to kill Lee. 

The prosecutions theory is that Adnan had put it all on the line for a relationship with Lee.  He risked his faith, his church, and the disapproval of his parents.  When Lee broke-up with him – having risked so much – he killed her.

A preposterous theory. 

Adnan risked no more in his relationship with Lee than thousands of other teen lovers do.  More importantly – at the end of the day – he lost nothing.  He was not kicked out of his house; he was not excommunicated from his religion; he did not suffer any consequences.

And why would he be upset with Lee.  If she broke up with him because of his family’s disapproval and meddling would Adnan not be angry with his parents?  Would the motive not to be to kill his parents for ruining his relationship.

The prosecutions motive theory – so expertly dismantled by Serial’s Koenig – makes no sense. 

In Canada motive plays a limited role in court cases.  Here is what Canadian juries are told about motive 

Watt’s Manual of Criminal Jury Instruction:

Motive is a reason why somebody does something. It is not one of the essential elements that Crown counsel must prove. It is just part of the evidence – one of many things for you to consider as you determine whether NOA is guilty.A person may be found guilty of an offence whatever his motive, or even without a motive. Absence of proven motive however, is a circumstance for you to consider – one which, you may find, tends to support the presumption of innocence. A person may also be found not guilty of an offence, even with a motive to commit it.

Canadian Judicial Council: Jury Instructions:

You have heard counsel speak about motive. We often use the words “motive” and “intent” interchangeably, but in law they do not mean the same thing. In a legal context, when we say that a person did something intentionally, we are conveying that he or she meant to do what he or she did, and that it was not done accidentally. When we speak of motive, however, we are referring to the reason a person did what he or she did.A person may do something intentionally whether or not the person had a motive for doing it. For example, a man goes into a department store, tries on a watch, gets distracted and walks out without paying. If he forgot to pay, he did not have the intent to steal. Next, suppose the man knew that the watch was on his wrist, but still walked out without paying. In that case, he did have the intent to steal the watch. If he was rich, had plenty of money in his wallet, and still took the watch, one might conclude he had no motive, or at least that his motive is unknown. However, if the man stole the watch in order to sell it, he had the intent to steal and his motive was financial gain.Later, I will explain the essential elements that the Crown must prove for the offence(s) with which NOA is charged. Motive is not one of those elements. In deciding whether people are guilty of an offence, what matters is what they did and whether they did it intentionally, and not their reasons for doing it.You need not find a motive for NOA’s actions in order to find him or her guilty of an offence.But motive can be relevant. If a person had a reason for doing a certain thing, then you might conclude that it is more likely that he or she in fact did that thing and did so intentionally. Conversely, if you find that a person had no reason to do a certain thing, that might cause you to doubt whether he or she did that thing or did it intentionally. In this case (describe the position of the parties as to motive, or absence of motive). It is for you to decide what weight, if any, you will give to the evidence of motive, or lack of motive, in this case.

In a Canadian courtroom I doubt that the Crown would have beaten the motive drum so loudly. 

Not only would the motive argument be dismantled by defence counsel but it would be used by the defence as a graphic example of overreaching by the state.

The Crown may not need to prove motive but in my experience an absurd theory of motive actually ends up hurting the prosecution.

Adnan’s ‘motive’ to kill Lee does not advance us any distance to uncovering the truth.

I still have a reasonable doubt……

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