Is Adnan guilty? Fans of the podcast Serial are familiar with the question, revolving around whether Adnan Syed is a murderer or an innocent man serving a life sentence for no reason. If he's innocent, his sentence, of course, "is a tragedy," writes JaneAnne Murray in the New York Times. But her main point is that even if Syed is guilty, the outcome was "troubling." In Syed's case, "the injustice may lie not in the conviction, but in the failure to negotiate the charges," writes Murray. She argues that it illustrates a problem with our plea-bargaining system in general.
Syed should have pleaded guilty: The prosecution actually had a strong case, but the defense surely had enough to negotiate a deal. If nothing else, Syed was just 17 at the time of the killing, and the victim was strangled, which generally doesn't happen in cases of premeditated murder. Syed reportedly asked for a plea bargain, but his attorney failed to pursue it. No wonder: Our plea-bargaining system is too loosey-goosey, usually "informal and unrecorded," often the result of a hallway chat between lawyers. Given the consequences, it's time to "bring transparency and independent review" to the system, perhaps under the eyes of a judge. Click for the full column. (Read more plea bargain stories.)