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Will Adnan Syed Sue the State for Wrongful Conviction?

A US court has overturned the conviction of Adnan Syed after 22 years. He was imprisoned in 2000 at the age of 19 for allegedly strangling and murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The case made national headlines in which prosecutors painted Syed as a vengeful ex who killed a young woman over jealousy. He maintained his innocence for all these years, but only the podcast ‘Serial’ by investigative journalist Sarah Koenig was able to bring renewed attention to the case.

Adnan Syed Gets Help From an Unusual Source

The first season of the podcast in 2014 focused on the case from October 3 to December 18, questioning the facts about Lee’s death and Syed’s arrest. Serial’s first season was downloaded more than 300 million times, becoming one of the most popular podcasts in the world. It raised further concerns among other activists and NGOs, who united in the fight to bring justice for Adnan Syed.

New shreds of evidence uncovered during the making of the podcast led the court to grant a new trail to Syed in 2015. However, a judge still denied bail, but his legal team continued to fight. An HBO documentary in 2019, ‘The Case Against Adnan Syed’, argued that Syed was convicted based on racial bias as he was Muslim. Moreover, in March 2022, the legal team requested the court to order DNA testing on the victim’s clothes, shoes, and rape kit, as they were never tested before his conviction.

On September 15 2022, the court filed a motion to vacate Syed’s conviction based on new evidence. It said that prosecutors who worked on the case decades ago committed Brady violations, hiding or failing to disclose evidence favourable to a criminal defendant. Syed was released from prison on September 19.

Social Media Distrustful of the Legal System

Adnan’s supporters were relieved and elated to learn about his long over-due release. Some also condemned the court for making an unfair trial against Syed. Critics highlighted the systemic racism prevalent in the American criminal justice system. However, many suggested that Adnan sued his State for a wrongful conviction which wasted 2 decades of his life.

The was a lot of commentary on the abuse of power by the courts with absolute immunity. It seems so easy for the court to make a mistake and apologize 20 years later without any reparation for the lives it destroyed. It was painful for many to digest, which is why they wanted Syed to sue the State.

It is possible for citizens to file a lawsuit against the State if they are incarcerated for a crime they did not commit. In the US, different states have different statutes to provide specific compensation through a specific process. For example, In Maryland, Syed can (if he wants) send a “claim letter” to the Treasurer stating how the State or its employee is responsible for his damage. This letter is viable only within 1 year after incurring damages. However, the court still has 30 days to drop all charges against Syed or retry the case.

What Now?

While Syed’s supporters are happy with his release, there’s a newfound pain for the family of Lee, whose murderer is still free. In fact, the main question of the Serial podcast was, “who actually killed Hae Min Lee”. Koenig revealed new details in each episode of the first season, including potential suspects. In the latest episode, she explained why Syed’s conviction was overturned. She said that his lawyers brought new evidence which showed that previous prosecutors failed to investigate and identify 2 potential suspects that detectives also knew about. She further said the lawyers also questioned the reliability of cellphone evidence and witness statements, previously used to convict Adnan Syed. Now it’s up to prosecutors to decide whether they will retry Syed or re-open Lee’s case and look for new suspects.

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