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Lee family attorney seeks new hearing on overturned Syed conviction

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Posted at 12:57 PM, Dec 09, 2022
and last updated 2023-01-11 08:31:36-05

BALTIMORE — The brother of Hae Min Lee wants Maryland's Court of Special Appeals to order another hearing to determine whether the conviction of her alleged killer, Adnan Syed, should have been thrown out.

Back in September a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to throw out Syed's life sentence. Days later they declined to file any new charges, making Syed a free man.

Prosecutors claimed new evidence surfaced putting Syed's guilt into question.

RELATED: Baltimore prosecutors drop charges against Adnan Syed

Attorneys say the hasty decision to release Syed from prison violated Young Lee's rights.

A judge overseeing the case refused to allow Lee, who lives in California, the time to appear in person for the hearing.

His lawyers say Mosby's office gave only one business-day’s notice, leaving Lee no chance to properly review and challenge the state's new evidence.

Lee now wants the Court of Special Appeals to provide him with the opportunity to present other evidence and call witnesses.

"The State’s 'newly discovered' evidence was not actually new, nor did it create a substantial probability that the original trial result would have been different," wrote Attorney Steven J. Kelly. "The circuit court erred by granting the motion without adequate review, including Mr. Lee’s participation."

Kelly accuses prosecutors and the circuit court of "erroneous" understanding of a 2019 law called the Vacatur Statute, which was used to free Syed.

Under the statute, prosecutors can petition judges to vacate a conviction in cases tainted by police misconduct or those where the defendant is believed to actually be innocent.

MORE: Adnan Syed's 23-year journey to freedom

The law was passed by Maryland State lawmakers after hundreds of convictions were reportedly impacted on the heels of a scandal involving the former Baltimore Police Department Gun Trace Task Force. Since then, Mosby's office has dropped more than 800 criminal cases they claim are tainted as result. The misconduct by GTTF members also led to numerous wrongful conviction lawsuits and settlements costing the City millions.

In his latest court filing Kelly expresses major concern of the consequences the law could have not only in Lee's case, but thousands of more victims in the future.

"Although no dispute involving victims’ rights under the Vacatur Statute has yet reached this Court, this case is surely the front of a looming wave," argued Kelley. "The Vacatur Statute is new, and prosecutors are only beginning to utilize it. According to the Statute’s bill files, thousands of motions are likely in the works."

He also took exception to one part of the Maryland rules that gives prosecutors only 30 days to decide whether a case will be retried or fully dropped once a conviction is vacated.

"The Vacatur Statute gives the prosecutor—the same one who moved for vacatur—30 days to decide whether to file new charges," Kelly writes. "No appeal could run its course in so little time. The victim is the only party likely to appeal a vacatur because, under the Statute, the State’s and defendant’s interests are aligned."

Despite the Lee family's wish to have the entire decision of Syed's release revisited, Kelly's main goal appears to have the court hear the merits of the case so what happened to Lee never happens again to another victim or their family.

"If this Court will not hear an appeal once a prosecutor has decided to nolle pros charges, no appeal will ever be heard, and prosecutors will have plenary power to moot their own cases—a manifest distortion of executive power," Kelly concluded.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals (which will be renamed the Appellate Court on December 14th) is expected to hear the case next year on February 2.