Appeals court restores Adnan Syed’s murder conviction
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A Maryland appeals court on Tuesday reinstated Adnan Syed’s murder conviction and ordered a new hearing in the case, marking the latest development in the long legal odyssey chronicled on the hit “Serial” podcast. “.
Although Syed’s conviction has been reinstated, he will not be immediately returned to custody.
In a 2-1 decision released Tuesday, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court failed to give the victim’s family sufficient notice when it scheduled the September hearing that canceled Syed’s conviction and allowed him to regain his freedom after more than two decades of delay. bars.
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The Intermediate Court’s order does not take effect for 60 days, delaying any immediate consequences and giving the parties time to decide whether to appeal and schedule future proceedings accordingly.
Syed’s attorney, Erica Suter, said she would ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider the case.
Maryland law grants victims the right to notice of vacatur hearings, and that right was violated in the case of Hae Min Lee’s brother, the appeals court said. Syed was convicted in 2000 of the murder of Lee, his high school ex-girlfriend whose body was found in a makeshift grave after she disappeared in 1999.
Baltimore prosecutors decided to overturn Syed’s conviction in September after reviewing the case and finding other suspects and unreliable evidence used in the trial. The lower court then quickly scheduled a hearing on the state’s motion to vacate.
Lee’s brother, Young Lee, was told on a Friday afternoon that the hearing would take place the following Monday. Giving him a single business day before the hearing was “insufficient time to reasonably allow Mr. Lee, who lived in California, to attend the hearing in person,” instead requiring him to attend remotely, ruled the Court of Appeal.
Young Lee attended the hearing via Zoom after the judge denied his request to postpone proceedings for a week to allow his in-person attendance.
The Lee family spent decades believing justice had been served, only to be dealt with after the fact when prosecutors decided their case was in fact flawed from the start, their lawyers argued. The appeals court largely agreed.
“Allowing a victim authorized to attend court proceedings to be present in person, when the victim so requests and all other persons involved in the hearing appear in person, is consistent with the constitutional requirement that victims should be treated with dignity and respect,” the court ruled.
The court also said the rehearing should be more transparent, requiring that “evidence in support of the motion to vacate be presented, and that the court state its reasons in support of its decision.”
David Sanford, a lawyer representing Young Lee, said this particular element of the ruling has serious implications because it means there will be “evidence for the world to see and consider”.
“We are delighted that the court agrees with Mr. Lee,” he said. “Decisions made by the courts should not be based on secret evidence.”
But Suter said ‘there is no reason to re-traumatize Adnan by returning him to convicted criminal status’.
“At the moment, Adnan remains a free man,” Suter said.
After Syed’s conviction was overturned, Baltimore prosecutors had 30 days to decide whether to try him again. They announced their decision to drop the charges eight days before the deadline expired – while an appeal from the Lee family was pending.
Appeals judges questioned that delay and concluded that the state acted “for the purpose … of preventing Mr. Lee from obtaining a decision on the appeal,” which Syed’s attorneys said. the sequel argued as moot as there were no underlying charges.
During oral argument last month, the three-judge panel focused much of its questioning on whether the appeal should be considered moot.
The judges also considered whether victims of crime or their representatives had a “right to be heard” in sentencing hearings, as the Lee family claimed in their appeal. The judges said they were unconvinced by this argument, ruling that victims do not have the right to meaningful participation in such hearings, which could include presenting evidence. They said a ruling to the contrary “would lead to a huge change in practice”.
What happens next remains somewhat unclear.
The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office is reviewing the decision.
Their position is further complicated by a recent leadership change. Current state’s attorney Ivan Bates took office in December – shortly after his predecessor, Marilyn Mosby, decided to drop charges against Syed, saying further DNA testing had ruled him out in as a suspect. This was after his office conducted a year-long review of the case and found that previous prosecutors had made significant missteps. Prosecutors knew of two alternate suspects but did not release that information to the defense, Mosby’s office wrote.
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His decision to reconsider the case came after Syed’s appeals were repeatedly denied. Even after the “Serial” podcast raised numerous questions about the evidence that led to Syed’s conviction and garnered a massive following of supporters, Syed remained behind bars for several years. In social media posts on Tuesday, many of his supporters questioned whether the appeals court ruling would ultimately send Syed back to jail.
Mosby released a statement saying “the ruling sets a dangerous precedent for a prosecutor’s ability to right an injustice.”
“We notified the victim’s family in accordance with Maryland law and best practices, and they attended virtually and spoke,” she said. “To bring this matter to court now prolongs the pain of the Lee family and leaves a cloud hanging over a man who deserves to be free, Adnan Syed.”
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