The Serial podcast made the case of Adnan Syed famous. He was charged with killing his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999 and has been in prison for the crime ever since.
This is a Maryland case, but it’s an interesting one.
He’s maintained his innocence all these decades, and there’s evidence to suggest he may be telling the truth. The primary witness against him has changed his story multiple times. The “cell ping” data that prosecutors used against him was used improperly. His own lawyer failed to contact a key alibi witness. And prosecutors eventually admitted there was exculpatory evidence buried in their own files that seems to have slipped through the cracks.
In short, the case was a mess from start to finish, so a lower Maryland court vacated the conviction a few months ago, giving prosecutors a deadline to determine if they wanted to pursue an additional trial.
Unfortunately, the lower court failed to notify Hae Min Lee’s family that the hearing was taking place with sufficient notice for him to go in person. He was present via a Zoom meeting but had only 30 minutes of notice to attend. The victim’s family challenged the courts on the issue of this notice.
The Appellate Court of Maryland ordered the trial court to hold a new hearing on the motion to vacate and to give Mr. Lee enough notice to attend in person.
Syed won’t be returning to prison, necessarily. The appeals court also gave him a 60-day stay of his ruling to give both sides time to consider the next steps.
This case offers a few insights.
First, police officers aren’t perfect, and many engage in misconduct to score an easy conviction. There is a reason why there is an epidemic of wrongful convictions in this country.
Second, you don’t want to rely on the appeal. You want to carefully vet a private criminal defense attorney. Find one you trust. Find the best one you can. One slip, one bit of negligence, one failure to seize on any bit of exculpatory information, and you could be behind bars.
Appeals are notoriously unsuccessful. We’ve seen defendants who can prove their factual innocence remain behind bars because courts are so reluctant to undo what other judges and prosecutors have done. There’s a real culture that says once you’re in jail, you should stay there until your sentence is done, whether you’re guilty or not.
In fact, one could argue the only reason Syed had a fighting chance is the publicity he received, which caused the public to begin putting pressure on the relevant authorities. Most defendants won’t get that kind of support.
So if you’re in trouble, don’t delay. Consider calling Koch Law to schedule a case review. We have experience in both state and federal courts, and we leave no stone unturned when it’s time to investigate our client’s cases.