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Court grants appeal to Serial's Adnan Syed

Alisha Ramos
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.
  1. Adnan Syed, whose case was at the center of the first season of the popular podcast Serial, will get a chance to argue in court that his conviction should be overturned, according to the Baltimore Sun.
  2. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals granted Syed, convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, the right to an appeal.
  3. His legal team will argue that his original lawyer was ineffective. If they win that argument, Syed would be eligible for a new trial.

Ineffective assistance claims face long odds

"It's the first step in a pretty long process but we're extremely happy," Syed's attorney, C. Justin Brown, told the Baltimore Sun. The appeal will be heard in June.

When Syed was convicted of Lee's murder, his lawyer, Christina Gutierrez, did not interview a witness who might have been able to confirm Syed's alibi — that he was in the Woodlawn High School Library the day his ex-girlfriend disappeared.

Gutierrez was later disbarred and died in 2004. (Here's a guide to every person mentioned in the Serial podcast.)

Ineffective assistance of counsel is a difficult argument to win. In December, Colin Miller, an associate professor of law at the University of South Carolina who specializes in evidence, estimated that the claim is successful less than 8 percent of the time (although also said he thought Adnan had a strong case).

What we've learned about Syed's case since Serial

Most of the evidence reporter Sarah Koenig discovered while reporting on Syed's case won't come into play during the appeal. That's because the key question is whether Gutierrez fulfilled her role, not whether Syed is innocent. If he wins the appeal, the state can seek a new trial or reach a plea deal with Syed.

Since Serial aired its final episode in December, Jay Wilds, the key witness whose testimony helped convict Syed, gave an interview to Natasha Vargas-Cooper, then of The Intercept. The story Wilds told Vargas-Cooper was more believable than many of the versions aired on Serial. But it also suggested that Jay's initial testimony was a lie — weakening both his credibility and the state's case.

That almost certainly won't come up in Syed's appeal, but if he wins his case, it could weigh into the state's decisions about whether to seek a new trial.

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