Adnan Syed Case Evidence Lesson: An objection worth making is worth preserving

Posted on 12-23-2015 by
Tags: Trending News & Topics , Adnan Syed , Serial Case Evidence Guide


This post is part of our “Maryland v. Syed Evidence Guide Series” based on a webinar prepared by Colin Miller and Susan Simpson, authors of the Undisclosed podcast. You can download the full guide at the end of the post.

Making effective objections to evidence and preserving adverse rulings for appeal are trial tactics every litigator must master. Failure to do so can doom a case no matter how well-taken the objection. The notorious case of Maryland v. Syed, aka the “Serial” case, illustrates the futility—indeed the harm—of failing to make objections properly and preserve issues for review.

“[W]hat [counsel] probably did the most here to let down the defense was her failure to preserve the objections she was making. She, in her defense, wasn't getting many breaks…. However, her repeated insistence on simply objecting and then saying not a word more, made those issues unpreserved….. [I]n addition … she also failed to prompt the court to make an actual ruling. If the court simply denies an objection without explaining why they denied it, that is not enough to preserve it for appeal.”

— Susan Simpson

From the Webinar:

(Please visit the site to view this video)

As noted more fully by Simpson and Miller in the illustrated Webinar clip above, counsel repeatedly:

  • objected to testimony or evidence without making clear the basis of her objection
  • failed to ask for a ruling on the record explaining the grounds for denial
  • failed to explain to the court why denial was error and provide the opportunity to correct it
  • failed to obtain a statement of the court’s basis for the sustention of the prosecution’s objections
  • omitted offers of proof where the prosecution’s objections were sustained

Any of these mistakes can preclude review of a court’s errors.

In one notable example, the state moved in evidence a letter Hae wrote stating her belief that Adnan was hostile towards her after their breakup. The letter was received over counsel’s non-specific objection. Objection was appropriate given the letter’s hearsay nature and the inapplicability of the state of mind exception to prove Adnan’s feelings. But the failure to specify the reasons for the objection and obtain a formal ruling resulted in unpreserved error.

Download the Full Guide

It’s better to learn from the mistakes of others than one’s own. If you’re interested in learning more Evidence Law tips from the Adnan Syed case, simply click to download the Maryland v. Syed Evidence Guide.

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