Adnan Syed’s Conviction Reinstated to Shield Crime Victims’ Rights

Yesterday the Appellate Court docket of Maryland enforced crime victims’ rights in a high-profile case involving Adnan Syed, the topic of the “Serial” podcast. In a 2-1 choice, that Court docket dominated that the trial court docket wanted to respect the rights of Younger Lee, brother of Hae Min Lee (the sufferer), to have been notified of and to have attended a listening to final September when the trial choose vacated Mr. Syed’s conviction for murdering Ms. Lee. This choice is a vital milestone, signaling that crime victims’ rights have gotten an enforceable a part of our nation’s prison justice structure.

Most readers are conscious of the “Serial” podcast, which solid doubt on the reliability of Mr. Syed’s convictions in 2000 for (amongst different issues) the 1999 homicide of 17-year-old Hae Min Lee. In 2003, the Maryland Court docket of Particular Appeals affirmed his conviction. In 2010, Mr. Syed filed a petition for for post-conviction launch, arguing ineffective help of counsel. In the end, after prolonged evidentiary and different hearings, the Maryland Court docket of Appeals affirmed Mr. Syed’s conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court docket denied certioari. On the time, Maryland Legal professional Normal Brian Frosh responded to information of the excessive court docket’s choice by saying the proof linking Mr. Syed to Ms. Lee’s demise was “overwhelming.”

Then, a number of years later, in September 2022, Baltimore State’s Legal professional Marilyn Mosby filed a movement to vacate Mr. Syed’s convictions below Maryland’s vacatur statute. The movement argued that prosecutors had didn’t disclose proof to the defendant that different suspects may need been answerable for the homicide. That movement was questioned by many observers, who famous that Mosby acted precipitously as she was about to face trial on  federal fraud and perjury prices. (The federal prices in opposition to Mosby stay pending; not too long ago her protection attorneys had been permitted to withdraw from the case after being accused of violating court docket guidelines.) The choose who presided over Mr. Syed’s trial additionally offered an affidavit stating that substantial proof supported Mr. Syed’s conviction. However as a result of the State was transferring to put aside Mr. Syed’s convictions–and Mr. Syed apparent agreed—it was not clear who was defending the conviction. After a listening to, the Circuit Court docket for Baltimore Metropolis granted the movement.

Ms. Lee’s brother, Younger Lee, appealed the vacatur, arguing that he (against the law sufferer’s consultant) had not been given sufficient discover of the vacatur listening to or a significant alternative to be heard on the deserves of the vacatur movement. The prosecutor had offered just one enterprise day’s discover, by way of electronic mail, to Mr. Lee. Mr. Lee, via counsel, requested a postponement of seven days in order that he may organize to take go away from work and fly from California to be current within the courtroom. The trial court docket denied the requested postponement however permitted him to present a press release on Zoom—with solely thirty minutes to arrange. The Appellate Court docket concluded this was not sufficient discover:

Clearly, discover to a sufferer in California that there can be a listening to in Baltimore a minute later wouldn’t be enough to adjust to the statutory aims, a degree which Mr. Syed’s counsel conceded, appropriately, at oral argument. Equally, the State’s discover right here, an electronic mail [on Friday] one enterprise day earlier than the listening to on Monday, September 19, 2022, was not enough to fairly permit Mr. Lee, who lived in California, to attend the proceedings, as was his proper.

The insufficient discover additionally interfered with Mr. Lee’s proper to attend the continuing, though he was allowed to take part by way of Zoom:

We maintain that within the circumstance the place, as right here, against the law sufferer or sufferer’s consultant conveys to the court docket a want to attend a vacatur listening to in individual, all different people concerned within the case are permitted to attend in individual, and there aren’t any compelling causes that require the sufferer to seem remotely, a court docket requiring the sufferer to attend the listening to remotely violates the sufferer’s proper to attend the continuing. Permitting a sufferer entitled to attend a court docket continuing to attend in individual, when the sufferer makes that request and all different individuals concerned within the listening to seem in individual, is in step with the constitutional requirement that victims be handled with dignity and respect.

The Court docket then thought of the suitable treatment for these violations of crime victims’ rights.

It may very well be argued that setting the vacatur apart and holding a brand new listening to the place victims’ rights had been revered would violate Mr. Syed’s double jeopardy rights. The Court docket made brief work of that potential argument, explaining that

Ordering a brand new vacatur listening to wouldn’t lead to a second prosecution after conviction or acquittal. The results of a brand new vacatur listening to will likely be to both reinstate the preliminary conviction or vacate it once more. There wouldn’t be a second prosecution.

The Appellate Court docket famous that, in opposition to the backdrop of confirmed violations of Maryland’s victims’ rights statute, it had “the facility and obligation to treatment that damage.” Accordingly, the Court docket put aside trial court docket’s order vacating Mr. Syed’s convictions and remanded “for a brand new, legally compliant, clear listening to on the movement to vacate, the place Mr. Lee is given discover of the listening to that’s enough to permit him to attend in individual, proof supporting the movement to vacate is offered, and the court docket states its causes in help of the choice.”

Whereas the Appellate Court docket typically supported victims’ rights, one a part of the choice held that {that a} sufferer doesn’t have a proper to be heard a vacatur listening to. This conclusion is tough to sq. with the language of the Maryland Victims’ Rights Modification, which supplies crime victims the state constitutional proper “to be heard at a prison justice continuing”—which a vacatur listening to would appear to be.  However this a part of the Appellate Court docket’s choice could have restricted sensible significance. The Appellate  Court docket famous that whereas a sufferer could lack a “proper to be heard, there are legitimate causes to permit a sufferer that proper in a vacatur listening to, and the court docket has discretion to allow a sufferer to deal with the court docket relating to the impression the court docket’s choice could have on the sufferer and/or the sufferer’s household.”

The conclusion {that a} sufferer ought to be heard at a vacatur listening to the place nobody is defending the judgment of conviction is properly supported by (for instance) the U.S. Supreme Court docket’s follow of appointing an advocate to defend the judgment under when each events decline to take action. For instance, in 2000, Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed me to argue in protection of the Fourth Circuit’s choice that 18 U.S.C. part 3501 outmoded the Miranda necessities, after the Clinton Administration Justice Division declined to defend the federal statute. In one other case, the Supreme Court docket has defined that this method permits it to “resolve the case happy that the related points have been absolutely aired.”

The Appellate Court docket declined to formally appoint Mr. Lee to defend the conviction. But when he’s permitted to talk—because the Court docket means that “legitimate causes” help—then he’ll be capable to present related info on this topic.

Yesterday’s Maryland Appellate Court docket ruling is essential as a result of it alerts that in Maryland (and, presumably, in lots of different states with comparable legal guidelines) crime victims’ rights have to be revered and will likely be revered. For the final a number of a long time, the crime victims’ rights motion has advanced from working to create crime victims’ rights to creating these rights enforceable.  I do know my pals within the crime victims’ rights motion in Maryland (a few of whom are engaged on this case) have made {that a} high precedence.

Crime victims face many challenges in implementing their rights. Among the many most vital are acquiring authorized counsel and “standing” in court docket to advance their arguments. Right here, Mr. Lee had authorized counsel and was allowed to be heard relating to his rights. That consequence ought to be broadly applauded, as a course of by which crime victims are heard is one that may produce outcomes which might be extra broadly accepted by the general public—no matter whether or not that end result goes in favor of or in opposition to the sufferer.

Imposing Mr. Lee’s rights as a sufferer consultant doesn’t take away any rights from Mr. Syed. The Court docket stayed enforcement of its ruling for 60 days, which ought to present ample time for a brand new listening to—throughout which era Mr. Syed is launched. It seems that Mr. Syed plans to enchantment to the Maryland Supreme Court docket, so his rights will proceed to be reviewed. And if finally a brand new listening to is held, that listening to will likely be one the place each Mr. Syed’s and victims’ rights are revered.

If the nation goes to undertake crime victims’ rights—as all fifty states have completed to some extent—these rights ought to be enforceable. It might add insult to prison damage to increase victims solely paper guarantees. The Appellate Court docket of Maryland’s choice correctly and correctly took crime victims’ rights significantly and enforced them.


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