The Innocence Project works to help innocent people, prevent wrongful convictions, and create an equitable criminal justice system. Specifically, Professor Erica Suter, director of the Innocence Project Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, seeks to exonerate factually innocent individuals. I had the privilege of joining a virtual lecture hosted by Professor Suter, who explained the ins and outs of the Innocence Project looking, specifically at Adnan Syded.
However, before telling Adnan's story, it is crucial to acknowledge that Professor Suter explains how the legal system typically screws up. There are around 3,000 exonerations- or when a person convicted of a crime is cleared after new evidence of innocence is available- in the United States. There has to be a perfect storm to receive an exoneration because it is challenging to prove innocence. There are social workers in the wrongful conviction realm because victims' rights are weaponized to justify mass incarceration. Most people in the criminal legal system have been victims at one point and endure layers of trauma that delve into childhood issues. Also worth considering is publicity which acts as a double-edged sword. Publicity brings attention and resources but can make the prosecution dig in and not admit they are wrong. Simply, people also attack others on the Internet. Hence, there is an evolving role of media in the legal system. If you invite media, you cannot control it. Media invites skepticism.
The Juvenile Restoration Act is an extremely relevant legal document worth considering when discussing exonerations. It describes how young individuals' brains still form until age twenty-six, affecting abilities, decision-making, risk assessment, and long-term thinking. There is a chance for rehabilitation while simultaneously opening the discussion of racial disparities. Specifically, eighty-seven percent of people holding sentences from childhood are African American.
To begin, Adnan was seventeen when his high school ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, was found dead in 1999. Adnan was arrested weeks later and ultimately convicted of murder. He received life in prison plus thirty years. Adnan's incarceration started when he was seventeen and lasted twenty-three years. Anad's case ended in a mistrial, and he was convicted at the beginning of 2000. Post-conviction proceedings began starting in 2008 because it was alleged that something went wrong in the process.
First, a cooperating co-defendant, Jay, helped bury the body. Second, cell phone evidence places Adnan with his friend in Lincoln Park during the short, specific window frame. Incoming calls are unreliable for the location or placing Adnan at the scene due to technological reasons. The prosecution created a narrow window of when he was at the crime scene when Adnan was with alibi witness Asia McClain at the library. Still, the defense attorney never spoke with her.
The Intermediate Appellate Court stated that Adnan was entitled to (the issue was waived) a new trial based on faulty cell phone evidence and an alibi witness. On September 14th, there was a motion to call into question the integrity of the verdict.
Eventually, the state of Maryland dropped the charges, and the victims filed an appeal. On March 28th, the Court of Special Appeals reversed and reinstated. In Maryland, victims have statutorily recognized rights. If an individual is being sentenced or on parole, the victim has the right to address the court regarding exactly how the crime has impacted their life and whether or not the law was applied correctly. Victims' feelings are important but shouldn't affect what the court decides. In other terms, victims do not participate in legal analysis. Post-conviction deals with purely legal questions and the impact of the state's misconduct.
During the afternoon of the hearing on September 19th, Adnan stated that he wanted to attend in person. The court rejected this request because of improper notice. The court ultimately reversed this statement because the victim could be there in person.
Adnan now tells us he's one of many victims of prosecutorial misconduct. Thus, Brady Evidence is emphasized because it is evidence of innocence that has to be turned over from either party. A Brady violation occurs when the state is hiding proof of innocence.
A plea deal is the number one approach for cases to get resolved, as it speaks to the disparity of power and resources. If an individual pleads guilty, it is more difficult to prove innocence. The Maryland Attorney General offered Adnan a plea deal if he stopped fighting. However, Adnan was not provided an Alford Plea, pleading guilty but not admitting guilt. If Adnan accepted the plea in 2018, he would be free and clear. However, he turned down the plea because he felt he'd be living a lie and exchanging one prison for another.
Currently, Adnan is part of the Georgetown scholar program, and shortly after his release, Georgetown offered him a job at the Georgetown Prison & Justice Initiative. He works with individuals to help them transition and adjust after the release.
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