Maryland Appellate Court Reinstates Murder Conviction of Adnan Sayed Because Victim Family Couldn’t Attend Hearing to Vacate Conviction

Appellate Court of Maryland via

By Cynthia Hoang-Duong and Caleigh Carlisle

ANNAPOLIS, MD –  In a 2-1 decision, the Appellate Court of Maryland reinstated the murder conviction of Adnan Syed this week after it found the circuit court violated the victim’s family rights to notice of, and attend a hearing on the motion to vacate Syed’s conviction.

“[W]e vacate the circuit court’s order vacating Mr. Syed’s conviction, which results in the reinstatement of the original convictions and sentence,” the court stated, according to the New York Times.

The court’s order does not go into effect for 60 days, and Syed—after two decades in jail—is still free. An attorney representing Syed said in a statement that they plan to appeal the decision.

According to numerous news reports, the subject of the appeal dates back to Syed’s conviction in 2000 by a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City for the murder of his former girlfriend. Syed has been serving a life sentence and an additional 30 years for the murder conviction.

In Sept. 2022, pursuant to Maryland’s “vacatur statute,” the state triumphed in its motion to vacate his conviction based on Brady rule violations and concerns about the reliability of the trial evidence, said the Times.

Particularly, the motion concerned allegations that the prosecution did not provide all of its evidence that could assist in exculpating the defendant. These allegations were brought to light by the “Serial” podcast in 2014, noted the Times.

The Times reported that Young Lee, the victim’s brother, was given notice only one business day before the hearing. Steve Kelly, the family’s attorney, had requested a postponement of the decision on the grounds that the prosecution had not given the family sufficient notice about the motion to vacate the conviction. The request was rejected.

Judge Melissa M. Phinn, the circuit court’s judge, ultimately granted the motion and vacated Syed’s conviction “in the interests of justice and fairness,” the Times added, noting the Lee family filed an appeal asking the court for a redo of the Sept. hearing that led to Syed’s release.

And Lee argued that the circuit court erred in its judgment to vacate Syed’s conviction without adequately informing him of the vacatur hearing and providing him with the opportunity to attend court to address the merits of the motion.

Addressing the court, Lee lamented, “This is not a podcast for me. This is real life — a never-ending nightmare for 20-plus years,” according to the NY Times, adding a Nov. 2022 appellate court agreed to the appeal process.

The Times said, according to the court opinion, although a victim, or a victim’s representative, doesn’t have a statutory right to attend a vacatur hearing, “The court… has discretion to permit a victim to address the court at a vacatur hearing regarding the impact of the court’s decision on the victim and/or victim’s family.”

During the hearing, the Times wrote the court maintained that while there is no statutory right, nothing bars a judge from allowing the victim to be heard at a vacatur hearing; particularly, regarding the effects of the court’s decision on the victim and their family.

The NY Times also noted the court explained that allowing a victim or a victim’s representative to attend a court proceeding in person abides by the constitutional requirement that victims be treated with dignity and respect.

“We remand for a new, legally compliant, and transparent hearing on the motion to vacate, where Mr. Lee is given notice of the hearing that is sufficient to allow him to attend in person, evidence supporting the motion to vacate is presented, and the court states its reasons in support of its decision,” the court concluded, said the Times reporting.

Regarding the concerns about the Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment—which bars an individual from being prosecuted twice for the same or similar offense—the court explained that it “has the power and obligation to remedy [the] violations, as long we can do so without violating Mr. Syed’s right to be free from double jeopardy,” said the Times.

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