The circumstances of Adnan Syed’s conviction in 2000 became the basis of the Serial podcast in 2014. It reexamined without bias the conviction of Adnan Syed, who is serving a life sentence for strangling his ex-girlfriend and then burying her with help from a friend, whose story has since proven unreliable.

The popularity of the podcast, which has been downloaded 175 million times, became a cause celebre in the media and led many to call for a reexamination of the case.  Now there is a four-part HBO documentary about recent updates of the case.

An ineffective legal defense

The Baltimore City court had ruled in 2016 that there was enough evidence for a new trial. This was based on the fact that Syed was initially defended by an attorney who was ineffective to the point where it violated Syed’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial in a timely fashion. There was no physical evidence for the original conviction, and the defense attorney did not seek out a witness who would have provided an alibi for the defense – the defendant was with her at the local library. The DNA from the victim’s body was never checked for the defendant’s DNA. The attorney was later disbarred in 2001 after a series of client complaints emerged. Normally, these lapses would involve interviewing the original defense attorney for the retrial, but the disbarred attorney is now deceased.

Now in March of 2019, the Maryland Court of Appeals has reversed the lower court’s decision and reinstated Syed’s conviction. This is based on the original totality of evidence against the defendant.

More likely to come

The courts and everyone else agree that Syed’s attorney gave him ineffective representation, which is a travesty. The matter is that much more serious because it involves murder and a life sentence. Whatever the final decision on this case is, it is a reminder of how important it is to have an criminal defense attorney who will fight for a client at the local or federal level.