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Syed Ruling Called 'Important Milestone' For Crime Victim Rights

When Baltimore prosecutors asked to vacate Adnan Syed’s murder conviction and have him freed after 23 years behind bars, their request exemplified a movement in the criminal justice system to acknowledge and correct past mistakes, including police misconduct and prosecutorial missteps. A Maryland appellate court ruling this week in the case raises new questions about the rights of crime victims, whose role in such proceedings often comes in opposition to ongoing justice reform efforts. Legal experts said the ruling could have serious implications, reports the Associated Press. The Appellate Court of Maryland’s 2-1 decision reinstated Syed’s conviction, creating yet another unexpected wrinkle in the protracted legal odyssey chronicled in the hit podcast “Serial.” The court ordered a redo of the September hearing that won Syed his release, finding that the victim’s family didn’t receive adequate notice to attend in person, which violated their right to be “treated with dignity and respect.”


Syed will appeal the decision to the state’s highest court. While crime victim advocates celebrated their victory, others warned the ruling could have a chilling effect on efforts to fight wrongful convictions and excessive sentences. “The victims’ rights movement is a very powerful lobby that wants a reserved seat at the head of the criminal justice table,” said Doug Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor who represented Syed decades ago. “This ruling certainly seems to satisfy their agenda.” David Jaros of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the University of Baltimore School of Law said defendants rarely succeed in getting prosecutors to reconsider a standing conviction. Syed was 17 when his high school ex-girlfriend and classmate, Hae Min Lee, was found strangled to death and buried in a makeshift grave in 1999. He was arrested weeks later and ultimately convicted of murder. He received life in prison, plus 30 years. Paul Cassell, a victims’ rights lawyer and University of Utah law professor, called this week's court decision "an important milestone, signaling that crime victims’ rights are becoming an enforceable part of our nation’s criminal justice architecture,. It would add insult to criminal injury to extend victims only paper promises.”

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