The case of Adnan Syed, who served greater than 20 years in jail on homicide fees earlier than his conviction was overturned on Monday, is exclusive due to the large publicity he garnered by the hit true crime podcast. Serial. However one of many causes he was launched, as a result of prosecutors withheld proof that might have exonerated him, is just not unusual.
In making the choice to launch Syed from jail, Circuit Decide Melissa Phinn in Baltimore relied on a radical evaluate of the case by Maryland prosecutors that confirmed, amongst different issues, that authorities knew of a minimum of two suspects. alternates in addition to Syed within the 1999 homicide of Hae Min Lee, an ex-girlfriend of his.
However prosecutors withheld details about alternate suspects from protection attorneys, based on a movement to vacate the conviction filed by prosecutors. They now have 30 days to resolve whether or not to proceed with a brand new trial or drop the costs in opposition to Syed, who has lengthy maintained his innocence.
Syed’s case highlights how the withholding of doubtless exculpatory proof by police and prosecutors can usually result in wrongful convictions. Critics say an absence of accountability and transparency has made it simpler for prosecutors to get away with such official misconduct, as harmless folks introduced earlier than the justice system should pay, usually with years of their lives afterward. bars, for crimes they didn’t commit. interact.
Hiding probably exculpatory proof violates a key authorized precept
Such conduct is a violation of what’s often known as the Brady rule, which requires prosecutors to show over any proof that might assist exonerate a prison defendant.
Two violations by Brady had been cited within the movement to vacate: the failure of the prosecution to reveal proof pointing to any alternate suspects and the failure of one of many suspects within the authentic investigation to reveal that he had threatened to kill Lee. .
“Contemplating the totality of the proof now accessible, details about an alternate suspect would have been useful to the protection as a result of it might have helped to help an alternate protection of the suspect that was in keeping with the protection’s technique at trial,” prosecutors stated in an announcement. your movement.
Circumstances the place prosecutors do not observe the rule are “surprisingly frequent,” says Vanessa Potkin, director of particular litigation on the Innocence Mission.
“It is not only a Baltimore drawback, it isn’t only a Maryland drawback. That is widespread throughout the nation,” he says.
There have been a minimum of 2,400 exonerations within the US between 1989 and 2019, and in 44% of circumstances it was the withholding of doubtless exonerating proof that resulted in a prisoner’s launch, based on a 2020 doc from the Nationwide Registry of Prisoners. Waivers.
“Police and prosecutor misconduct are the most typical contributing elements” to exonerations, says Simon Cole, director of the registry. “And inside that, the concealment of proof, which is what’s alleged in [Syed’s] case, it’s the most typical subtype of official misconduct.
Prosecutors have lots of room for maneuver
In lots of jurisdictions, prosecutors can hold their information secret, and the choice about what to show over to the protection is left as much as the prosecutors themselves, says Laura Nirider, co-director of the Heart on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern College’s Pritzker College of Legislation. .
“We should depend on particular person prosecutors to resolve what proof to speak in confidence to the protection and what proof to withhold,” he says. “It may be troublesome for any prosecutor to objectively resolve what proof is actually materials and really exculpatory.”
In a 2017 interview with NPR, journalist and Yale College legislation professor Emily Bazelon likened the state of affairs to one thing akin to the glory system.
“We’re speaking a few state of affairs the place they’ll see what’s of their information, however the protection cannot see it. And the choose cannot see it both. So they are surely making this essential determination on their very own. .”
However there’s a persevering with push to implement extra open discovery, says Nirider.
“These are programs the place prosecutors permit protection attorneys to evaluate their information in a wider manner,” he says. That may “make sure that the Brady materials is turned over and that defendants like Adnan can mount the strongest and fairest protection accessible to them.”