A Maryland appeals court on Tuesday The sentence for the murder of Adnan Syed has been reinstated And hit podcast “Serial” has ordered a new hearing in the case, marking the latest development in the long-running legal odyssey.
Although Syed’s sentence was reinstatedHe will not be taken back into custody immediately.
In a 2-1 decision released Tuesday, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court failed to give the victim’s family adequate notice when it scheduled a hearing in September. Syed’s conviction was dismissed and allowed him to regain his freedom after more than two decades in prison.
The court order is not effective for 60 days. An attorney representing Syed said in a statement that they plan to appeal Tuesday’s decision.
“The appeal was not about Adnan’s innocence but about notice and profanity,” said Erica J. Suter, Syed’s attorney and director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore Law School. “The Maryland Court of Appeals reinstated Adnan’s conviction, not because the motion to vacate was erroneous, but because Ms. Lee’s brother did not appear in person at the vacatur hearing.”
Maryland law gives victims a right to prior notice of such a hearing, and that right was violated in the case of Hye Min Lee’s brother, the appeals court ruled. Syed was convicted of killing Lee, his former high school girlfriend, whose body was found in a makeshift grave after she disappeared in 1999.
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Baltimore prosecutors moved to convict Syed in September after they reviewed the case and found alternative suspects and unreliable evidence used in the trial. The lower court then scheduled a hearing on the state’s petition for expedited vacating.
Lee’s brother, Young Lee, was informed Friday afternoon that the hearing would be held the following Monday. Given only one business day before the hearing was “insufficient time to reasonably permit Mr. Lee, who resides in California, to attend the hearing in person,” instead requiring him to attend remotely, the appeals court ruled.
Yang Lee attended the hearing via Zoom after the judge denied a request to delay the proceedings for a week to allow her to appear in person.
The Lee family believed for decades that justice had been served, only to be considered an afterthought when prosecutors decided their case was flawed from the start, their attorneys argued. The Court of Appeal largely agreed.
“Allowing a victim entitled to be present at a court proceeding when the victim so requests and all other persons involved in the hearing to appear in person, is consistent with the constitutional requirement that victims be treated with dignity and respect,” the court ruled.
After Syed’s conviction, Baltimore prosecutors have 30 days to decide whether to retry him. They announced their decision to drop the charges eight days before the deadline — while an appeal by the Lee family was pending.
Appeals judges questioned that timeline and concluded that the state “acted with the intent … to prevent Mr. Lee from obtaining an appellate verdict,” which Syed’s attorneys later argued was not an underlying charge.
During oral arguments last month, the three-judge panel focused most of its questions on whether the appeal should be considered moot.
“It makes all the difference in the world when the case is moot,” Judge Stuart Berger said during the hearing.
The judges also considered whether crime victims or their representatives had a “right to be heard” at the sentencing hearing, as the Lee family asserted in their appeal. The justices said they were not persuaded by the argument, ruling victims have no right to meaningful participation in such hearings. They said a ruling to the contrary “results in a massive shift in practice.”
The judges said they were obligated to correct the lower court’s violations, “so long as we can do so without violating Mr. Syed’s right to be free from double jeopardy,” meaning he would be tried twice for the same crime.
“We do so, and accordingly, we vacate the circuit court’s order acquitting Mr. Syed, thereby reinstating the original conviction and sentence,” the ruling said.
“There is no basis for re-striking Adnan by returning him to the status of a convicted felon. For now, Adnan is a free man. We are hopeful that justice will be served,” Suter said in his statement.