BALTIMORE (AP) — Lawyers for Adnan Syed filed a motion Wednesday asking a Maryland appeals court to reconsider its recent decision to reinstate his decades-old murder and life sentence, a ruling that upheld the arguments of the family of the victim who claim that a lower court violated their rights.
Syed, whose lengthy legal odyssey drew international attention for the hit podcast «Serial,» regained his freedom last year after Baltimore prosecutors moved to vacate his conviction, saying they reviewed the case and found alternate suspects and little evidence. reliable used at trial.
But the victim’s family said they did not receive sufficient notice to personally attend the September vacatur hearing, violating their right to be «treated with dignity and respect,» and last month the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed. agreement. In a 2-1 decision that was stayed for 60 days, the judges reinstated Syed’s sentence and ordered that the hearing in question be rehearing.
Wednesday’s motion calls on judges to reconsider the ruling, prompting celebration within the crime victims’ rights movement and criticism from criminal justice reform advocates who have warned of a potential chilling effect on existing efforts to combat wrongful convictions and excessive sentences.
Syed’s lawyers say the appellate judges broke with court precedent by not requiring the victim’s family to prove that the outcome of the September hearing would have been different if they had received more notice and attended in person. The motion also questions whether the court intends to grant crime victims and their representatives «special treatment that is not even available to those accused of crimes.»
Syed was 17 when his ex-girlfriend and high school classmate Hae Min Lee was found strangled to death and buried in a makeshift grave in 1999. He was arrested weeks later and eventually convicted of murder. He received life in prison, plus 30 years.
Despite the ongoing litigation, Syed remains free for the time being. Many of his supporters have expressed alarm that he might be detained again, depending on how the case unfolds.
Maryland law says that victims must receive advance notice of the vacated sentencing hearings, and that right was violated in the case of Lee’s brother, the appeals court ruled last month.
Young Lee was notified on a Friday afternoon that the hearing would take place the following Monday, which did not give him enough time to make travel arrangements from his home in California. However, he attended the hearing via video conference and spoke during the proceedings about how the case has impacted his family.
Syed’s lawyers have argued that Lee’s ability to participate remotely satisfied crime victims’ rights requirements. In the motion for reconsideration, they also argue that Lee should have to prove that her attendance in person would have changed the outcome of the hearing; otherwise, the lower court’s error must be considered “harmless”. They cited an earlier ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals saying that «it is the policy of this Court not to reverse for harmless error.»
David Sanford, a lawyer for the Lee family, said he believes the judges will not relent in their commitment to victims’ rights.
“The Maryland Constitution and the collective wisdom of the Maryland State Legislature recognize victims’ rights as an essential part of the legal fabric of Maryland,” he said in a statement Wednesday. «We are confident that the Court of Appeals will uphold those rights again.»
While the appellate judges found that Lee’s rights were violated due to the schedule, they also found that he did not have an explicit “right to be heard” during the hearing. His lawyers had requested the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses, which the judges said would «result in a big change in practice.»
In a dissenting opinion that largely rebutted the conclusions of the two majority judges, Justice Stuart Berger said Maryland lawmakers should develop more specific victim rights requirements, including the amount of notice victims must receive for set aside hearings, rather than leaving it to the courts to interpret a patchwork of existing statutes that do not directly address the issue.