September 16, 2022

For more than a decade I represented Adnan Syed. With the help of many others along the way, we achieved some amazing results – winning his post-conviction hearing, winning in the Court of Special Appeals, and, perhaps most importantly, keeping alive the hope that someday he would be freed.

That day is now upon us. Adnan is free, released from prison by the State’s own motion to vacate his conviction. Words cannot express how happy we are for Adnan, his family, his new defense team, and all the supporters who have rallied behind him for all these years. This is a great day, and it is a time to celebrate.

That said, we have concerns about how we got to this day. We are concerned that it took this long for such a faulty conviction to finally crumble. We are concerned that the Maryland courts, until now, failed to see the injustice of this conviction, and instead only saw technical excuses for why it could not do the right thing and grant a new trial. We are concerned about how persistently and aggressively prosecutors fought for this conviction, even perhaps crossing the lines of fairness for the sake of “winning.”

While we are encouraged that the State is finally acknowledging some of the myriad problems with Adnan’s conviction, we are truly disturbed by some of the statements set forth in the State’s recent motion to vacate the conviction: that prosecutors withheld – from me and other defense lawyers – exculpatory evidence that could have altered the course of the litigation. It has now been revealed that prosecutors were aware of another viable suspect in Hae Min Lee’s murder, but that they sat on that information for more than 20 years. While we do not know how this happened, nor whether it was intentional, we do know it is inexcusable.

We are also disturbed, and stunned, by the State’s admission that the cell tower evidence used against Adnan was flawed. This is precisely what we have been saying since 2015, when we raised this issue in a motion to re-open postconviction. Prosecutors representing the State bitterly fought this claim, even going so far as calling an FBI witness who incredibly denied the unreliability of the cell phone evidence. When the State lost this argument on the merits, it turned to technical arguments and eventually convinced an appeals court that the argument had been waived. It was a win-at-all-costs approach. Never, until now, was there an effort to do the right thing and admit that an error had been made.

It is our hope that the case of Adnan Syed can represent more than just one man’s fight for freedom – no matter how extraordinary that story may be. This should be a call for reform and an opportunity to make our system better. We have little doubt that there are hundreds of people like Adnan Syed currently in our prisons, right here in Maryland. They are people who are wrongly convicted, wrongly sentenced, and improperly warehoused in our byzantine prison system. Let us all hope that justice will come quicker for them than it came for Adnan.

–Justin Brown