Adnan Syed case: Maryland attorney general’s office backs Hae Min Lee’s brother in appeal; Syed says legal argument is moot

BALTIMORE — An appeal by Hae Min Lee’s brother in the case of Adnan Syed should proceed because Syed’s conviction was overturned in a legally deficient hearing, the Maryland Office of the Attorney General said in a filing Monday night.

In the filing, Assistant Attorney General Daniel Jawor backed the argument by Lee’s brother, Young Lee, that he wasn’t given adequate notice of the September hearing where Syed’s conviction was overturned.

The brief represents the first legal argument in the case under the administration of recently sworn-in Attorney General Anthony Brown, who has declined to publicly take a position on the case.

Jawor said the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office’s decision to drop the charges in October amounts to a “legal nullity” because they didn’t give Lee an adequate chance to participate in the hearing.

Syed’s attorney, Erica Suter, also filed a brief Monday night, arguing Lee’s appeal has been moot since Baltimore prosecutors dropped Syed’s charges in October.

Through his attorneys, Lee asked the Appellate Court of Maryland to order the September hearing be redone so that he can have the opportunity to present evidence.

A three-judge panel on the state’s second highest court set oral arguments in the case for Feb. 2.

“We look forward to arguing the case in the Appellate Court,” Suter said in a statement released by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

Her position has the support of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which filed a brief Monday arguing that crime victims, or their representatives, only have the right to appear at hearings to determine whether to vacate convictions, not to participate — or to present evidence.

“Vacatur is a limited proceeding where a victim’s allocution has no bearing on the key issue of whether newly discovered evidence calls into question the integrity of the conviction. By contrast, sentencing is a holistic inquiry, and the victim’s right to be heard has long been recognized as an important part of that inquiry,” the attorneys’ brief reads.

Suter approached the city State’s Attorney’s Office’s Sentencing Review Unit in 2021, with hopes of having Syed’s punishment modified. Instead, the prosecutor’s office reinvestigated the case. City prosecutors moved to vacate his conviction in September, citing the revelation of alternative suspects in the homicide. A Baltimore judge ordered him unshackled and released from custody Sept. 20, freeing Syed from custody after 23 years.

Syed’s legal saga rocketed to international renown because of the hit podcast “Serial” and subsequent features about his case.

Police arrested Syed, then 17, in 1999 and charged him with murder in Lee’s death, presenting the theory that he strangled her because he was upset over their breakup. A jury found him guilty in 2000, and a judge sentenced him to life plus 30 years in prison.