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Adnan Syed Stands Before Maryland’s Highest Court as Lawyers Raise Concerns About Possible Reimprisonment

by Joshua Brown
10 comments
Adnan Syed Supreme Court Appeal

Legal representatives for Adnan Syed, who regained his freedom after over 20 years in prison for allegedly murdering his former girlfriend, will be back in court this week to argue for the continuation of his liberty. This case has captured widespread attention, thanks in part to its coverage on the true-crime podcast “Serial.”

Scheduled to commence on Thursday, the proceedings at Maryland’s Supreme Court come amid a series of complex legal developments and conflicting judicial opinions. Syed’s counsel is challenging an appellate court’s decision to reinstate his murder conviction, an outcome with far-reaching implications not just for Syed but also for the legal rights of victims.

Syed, aged 42, was discharged from incarceration in September 2022 after a Baltimore judge nullified his murder conviction. City prosecutors subsequently dropped all charges against him due to identified weaknesses in the evidence presented in his trial.

Nevertheless, this past March, Maryland’s Appellate Court mandated a reevaluation of the hearing that led to Syed’s release. The court stated that the family of the victim, Hae Min Lee, was not adequately notified to attend the hearing, thus infringing on their right to dignity and respect.

The Lee family is also appealing to Maryland’s Supreme Court, asserting that crime victims in the state possess a legal right to scrutinize and question evidence during hearings like the one that overturned Syed’s 2000 conviction.

Syed faces the very real threat of re-incarceration, an issue highlighted by his attorneys in legal documents. “The daunting possibility of being returned to custody has loomed over Mr. Syed daily for the last ten months,” wrote Erica Suter, one of Syed’s lawyers, in a court brief submitted in August.

The case has significant potential ramifications for the legal entitlements of victims. While the appellate court concluded that insufficient notice was given to Lee’s brother to attend the hearing, it also clarified that Maryland law does not automatically grant victims the right to participate actively in such hearings. According to the judges, permitting victims to contribute evidence or engage in other meaningful ways would represent a substantial change in judicial procedure.

Although a ruling is not anticipated on Thursday, the Maryland Supreme Court will eventually release a written decision on its official website, the timing of which remains uncertain.

Syed’s legal team argues that the Lee family had been adequately informed about the hearing. They also claim that the family’s appeal has been rendered irrelevant since the prosecution elected not to refile charges after his conviction was nullified. Even if the rights of Lee’s brother, Young Lee, were infringed upon, there is no proof to suggest that such an infringement would have materially altered the hearing’s conclusion.

Young Lee, who participated remotely in the hearing, was alerted on a Friday afternoon about a hearing set for the following Monday. The appellate court found this timeframe inadequate to reasonably allow Mr. Lee, a California resident, to be physically present at the Maryland hearing. Attorneys for the Lee family have also censured what they perceive as a lack of transparency in the court processes that resulted in Syed’s release.

“Nearly a generation has passed since the murder of Hae Min Lee first entered Maryland’s judicial system,” wrote David Sanford, a lawyer representing the Lee family, in a legal document last month. Sanford argued that the case should be assigned to a new judge to determine whether the conviction should be vacated.

This marks another chapter in Syed’s extensive legal journey, which the Maryland Supreme Court had previously reviewed. In 2019, the court narrowly denied Syed a new trial by a 4-3 margin. While agreeing with a lower court that Syed’s legal representation had been inadequate, the judges disagreed that such shortcomings had compromised the trial. Following a 2016 lower court decision to order a retrial based on ineffective counsel, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Maryland’s top court’s decision in November 2019.

More recently, a review of Syed’s case files occurred under a Maryland statute aimed at individuals sentenced to life as juveniles, as he was 17 when Hae Min Lee was found strangled and interred in an improvised grave. Upon discovering multiple issues including the identification of alternative suspects and unreliable cellphone tower data, prosecutors chose to file a motion to completely vacate Syed’s conviction, rather than re-evaluating his sentence.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Adnan Syed Supreme Court Appeal

What is the main issue in Adnan Syed’s case that is currently being reviewed by the Maryland Supreme Court?

The primary issue is the appeal against the reinstatement of Adnan Syed’s murder conviction by Maryland’s Appellate Court. Syed’s legal team is arguing for the continuation of his freedom, while the victim’s family contends that they were not given adequate notice to attend the hearing that led to Syed’s release, thereby violating their rights.

Who is Hae Min Lee, and what is her family’s position on the case?

Hae Min Lee is the victim of the murder for which Adnan Syed was originally convicted over two decades ago. Her family is appealing to the Maryland Supreme Court, asserting that crime victims in Maryland have a legal right to scrutinize and question evidence in hearings like the one that overturned Syed’s conviction.

What is the significance of the case for victims’ rights?

The case could have far-reaching implications for the legal rights of victims in Maryland and possibly beyond. The appellate court clarified that under current state law, crime victims do not automatically have the right to participate actively in hearings that could vacate a conviction. Changing this could represent a significant shift in judicial procedure.

What did the Appellate Court of Maryland rule concerning Syed’s release?

The Appellate Court ordered a reevaluation of the hearing that led to Syed’s release. The court found that the victim’s family wasn’t adequately notified to attend the hearing, thus infringing on their right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Why was Adnan Syed released from prison in September 2022?

Adnan Syed was released after a Baltimore judge nullified his murder conviction. City prosecutors dropped all charges against him due to identified weaknesses in the evidence that was presented during his trial.

What could be the consequences for Adnan Syed after the Maryland Supreme Court’s review?

Syed faces the very real possibility of being re-incarcerated. His legal team has emphasized this concern, stating that the threat of being returned to custody has loomed over him for the past ten months.

How has this case gained widespread public attention?

The case has been widely publicized, primarily due to its extensive coverage on the true-crime podcast “Serial,” which delved into the complexities and ambiguities surrounding Syed’s conviction.

When is the Maryland Supreme Court expected to issue its ruling?

The Maryland Supreme Court is not expected to issue a ruling immediately following the hearing on Thursday. A written decision will eventually be released on the court’s official website, although the timing remains uncertain.

Has the U.S. Supreme Court been involved in this case?

Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a decision by Maryland’s top court in November 2019, which had denied Syed a new trial.

Were there any previous hearings or rulings regarding Adnan Syed’s case?

Yes, in 2019, Maryland’s highest court ruled 4-3 to deny Syed a new trial, despite agreeing with a lower court that his legal counsel had been inadequate. Prior to this, a lower court had ordered a retrial in 2016 based on ineffective counsel provided by Syed’s attorney at the time.

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10 comments

Carl Gray October 5, 2023 - 8:04 am

Legal system’s messed up, takes years and years to fix a mistake. And sometimes not even then.

Reply
Tom Davis October 5, 2023 - 12:57 pm

Have been following since the Serial podcast, this case is like a never ending rollercoaster. Crazy how much media attention its got.

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Karen White October 5, 2023 - 3:41 pm

Seems like the victim’s family was kinda sidelined here. good that the court is looking into it.

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John Smith October 5, 2023 - 5:51 pm

Wow, this case just keeps twisting and turning. Hard to keep up with all the legal ins and outs.

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Sarah Williams October 5, 2023 - 9:17 pm

Why does it take so long for courts to make decisions? I mean, a guy’s life is hangin in the balance.

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Jane Doe October 6, 2023 - 12:40 am

cant believe Syed might go back to prison after all this time, especially with the Serial podcast making him so famous.

Reply
Steve Green October 6, 2023 - 1:05 am

If you ask me the real issue is the unreliable evidence. Why’d they convict him in the first place if it was so shaky?

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Mike Johnson October 6, 2023 - 1:43 am

The issue about victims rights is a big deal here. It seems like it’s not just about Syed but could affect a lot of other cases too.

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Rachel Lewis October 6, 2023 - 2:07 am

I’m just waiting for the next podcast episode to drop, gotta hear what Sarah Koenig has to say bout this!

Reply
Emily Brown October 6, 2023 - 3:50 am

This is why i don’t trust the justice system. First he’s guilty, then he’s not, and now maybe he is again?

Reply

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