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The United States Law Week

State Opposes ‘Serial’ Podcast Subject’s SCOTUS Appeal

Oct. 18, 2019, 7:25 PM

There’s no need for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up “Serial” podcast subject Adnan Syed’s appeal, Maryland officials told the justices in court papers on Oct. 18.

Syed, convicted of the 1999 killing of Baltimore County high school student Hae Min Lee—he says he’s innocent—has a petition pending before the justices. His case was featured in the 2014 hit podcast which highlighted aspects of his case like a potential alibi and state witness inconsistencies.

Syed argues that a state appeals court ruling against him undermines the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, due to the way that the court evaluated his claim that his trial lawyer’s failure to investigate his alibi warrants a new trial.

He says the Maryland appeals court took the wrong approach, hypothesizing “a different case, one where the jury rejected the State’s theory of the time of Lee’s death in favor of some unpresented and unknown alternative timeline.”

He says other courts around the country take a different approach—comparing the case that the state actually presented at trial with the case that the defendant would have presented if his attorney had been effective—and that the justices should take his case to clear up which approach is required.

But there’s no real split in authority to clear up, state officials argue to the justices in opposing Syed’s petition. What’s more, the state says, Syed’s attorney wasn’t deficient in the first place. Ineffective assistance of counsel claims require a showing of deficiency as well as prejudice owing to the deficiency.

Syed’s attorneys will next have an opportunity to reply to the state’s opposition brief, and then the justices will decide whether to take up the appeal.

The case is Syed v. Maryland, U.S., 19-227, state opposition brief filed 10/18/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com