The journalists from “This American Life,” a public radio broadcast, recently created the hugely popular podcast, “Serial,” which “aired” last fall. According to their website, Serial presents one story (a true story), over sequential episodes. For its inaugural “season”, the journalists at Serial chose the 1999 murder of a Woodlawn High School student, Hae Min Lee. Her high school ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of murdering Hae Min and is currently serving a life sentence in a West Maryland correctional facility. In some recent legal developments, a Maryland court has agreed to permit an appeal in Syed’s case.
This past January, a Baltimore circuit court denied Syed’s petition for post conviction relief. The most recent decision by the Court of Special Appeals reverses that decision and essentially allows Syed to appeal the denial. Post conviction relief is different than a direct appeal from a trial court ruling. Under Maryland law, a person convicted of a crime at trial has a right to appeal that court’s ruling. In such instances, the Court of Special Appeals is obligated to hear the “appellant’s” challenge of the trial court’s decision. A petition for post conviction relief is different, in that the person convicted of a crime is not necessarily entitled to an appeal. One must file with the court an “Application for Leave to Appeal,” essentially asking for permission to appeal. The court has full discretion as to whether to grant the appeal.
One typical ground for post conviction relief is ineffective assistance of counsel. In Syed’s case, the subject of the Serial podcast, Syed’s counsel argued that his former attorney who represented him at the murder trial made certain mistakes that caused him “prejudice” – and that without those mistakes, the outcome of the trial would have been different. Specifically, Syed’s attorney argued that the trial counsel: 1) ignored and failed to investigate a credible alibi witness, and 2) told Syed that she had complied with his request to discuss a plea offer with the State, when she had not done so.
The Baltimore Sun recently reported on these new developments as well, indicating that the appellate court ordered Syed’s attorney to file a brief, setting forth his arguments. And in very recent news, the court extended by a week – the deadline for Syed’s court filing of his arguments in favor of overturning the murder conviction.
The Serial podcast has certainly generated an extraordinary amount of interest in the outcome of the case. One news article suggested that “new evidence in the case could be brought to the surface” due to the popularity of the program. It seems that a former classmate of Syed’s has indicated that she can provide an alibi for Syed at the time of the murder. Syed’s attorney is encouraging the Court to allow the alibi witness to testify, pointing out that Syed, like everyone else in this country, has a due process right to fairness.
As this case illustrates, there are various legal avenues by which a person arrested, charged or convicted of a crime may pursue relief. The most important part of any criminal case is to be sure you are represented by someone who has a great deal of experience handling all aspects of a criminal matter, from arrest to the final appeal. Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases in Maryland. Our office will work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
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