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Maryland Attorney General urges new hearing on vacated Syed conviction

Maryland Serial Podcast
Posted at 3:21 PM, Jan 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-11 08:45:19-05

BALTIMORE — A new development in the case of Adnan Syed.

Newly sworn in Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown filed a motion on January 9 asking the State Appellate Court to order a new vacatur hearing.

Back in September a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge threw out Syed's life sentence for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, at the request of former Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

The following month prosecutors declined to refile any new charges citing a lack of evidence, making Syed a free man.

Young Lee, the victim's brother, has since claimed the hasty decision to release Syed from prison violated his rights.

The 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.

In November an appeals court agreed to hear Lee's case next month.

RELATED:Lee family attorney seeks new hearing on overturned Syed conviction

The court ordered both sides to answer these three questions before the hearing.

1. Did the entry of the nolle prosequi render this appeal moot?
2. Even if the appeal is moot, should the Court exercise its discretion to issue an opinion on the merits?
3. Did the notice that [Lee] received in advance of the Circuit Court’s vacatur hearing comply with applicable constitutional provisions, statutes, and rules?

In their latest filing, the Maryland Attorney General's Office agreed with Lee's attorneys that the dismissal of charges does not make an appeal moot.

The AG goes onto characterize the hearing which vacated Syed's conviction as "legally defective."

"Because the nolle prosequi was a legal nullity in the wake of the defective vacatur hearing, this appeal is not moot," the Attorney General's Office wrote.

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

Although the Attorney General's Office appears to echo that in their motion, they urged the court to use their discretion in ruling on the merits.

"If the controversy in this case is moot, it concerns unresolved issues in matters of important public concern that, if decided, will establish a rule for future conduct. In particular, this case raises unresolved issues about victims’ rights to notice of, and attendance at, vacatur hearings," the Attorney General's Office wrote.

On the third question Lee's Family and the Attorney General's Office agree in part and differ on others.

While the Attorney General's Office concurred with Lee that his ability to make an impact statement was compromised, they disagreed with his request to present evidence and witnesses.

"The State cannot agree with Lee that he was denied any right to present evidence, call witnesses, and challenge the state’s evidence and witnesses," the Attorney General's Office opined. "No such victim’s rights exist in connection with the vacatur statute. Maryland law is clear that neither a victim nor a victim’s representative is a party to a criminal or juvenile proceeding."

Meanwhile attorneys for Syed called Lee's request "unprecedented."

"Victims do not prosecute charges, they do not decide which witnesses to call, and they do not cross-examine those witnesses," Syed's attorney's wrote. "Giving Appellant what he wants will not just result in the re-imprisonment of Mr. Syed for a crime he did not commit, it will wreak havoc on our criminal justice system."

They also disputed the Attorney General's opinion that despite a nolle prosequi, the case is not moot.

"It is moot because there is no underlying case left in which to order a remand and because the nolle prosequi occurred after Appellant noted his appeal and thus is not part of the judgment under review," Syed's attorney's wrote.

The Appellate Court is scheduled to hear the case on February 2.