What is vacated conviction? Meaning explored as Hae Min Lee's family appeals court decision to free Adnan Syed

Adnan Syed
Adnan Syed's murder conviction was vacated last week (Image via Serial)

A court document filed on Wednesday, September 28, stated that Hae Min Lee's family had appealed to a Maryland judge's decision to vacate the murder conviction of Adnan Syed. Syed was released last week after spending 20 years in prison for being accused of Hae Min Lee's murder.

Syed was released from prison earlier in September after Baltimore City Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn vacated his conviction after years of appeals, media coverage and public outrage over the case. He is now under home detention.

According to Becky Feldman, chief of the Sentencing Review Unit of the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, Syed has been ordered to wear a tracking ankle monitor.

You can simultaneously be happy that Adnan Syed is coming home and demand that Hae Min Lee's killer should be found & that her family finally finds peace. Both, in fact, are connected. This was an utter failure of the criminal justice system. They imprisoned the wrong man.

The appeal was filed by attorney Steven Kelly on behalf of the victim's brother, Young Lee. Kelly told CNN in a statement:

"Young Lee filed the attached notice of appeal based on violations of his family’s right to meaningfully participate in the September 19, 2022 hearing on the motion to vacate Adnan Syed’s conviction. The notice of appeal is the first step in seeking the Maryland Court of Special Appeals’ review of the potential violations of Maryland’s victim’s rights statutes in connection with the hearing."

Regarding the decision to vacate Syed's conviction, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said during a press conference:

"We're not yet declaring Adnan Syed is innocent, but we are declaring that in the interest of fairness and justice, he is entitled to a new trial."

According to Wikipedia, a vacated judgment makes the previous legal judgment legally void. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit states that a vacated judgment "place[s] the parties in the position of no trial having taken place at all; thus a vacated judgment is of no further force or effect." The Seattle Municipal Court states that in the case of vacating a conviction:

"...the court may set aside the conviction, dismiss the case and vacate the judgment and sentence."

Hae Min Lee murder case: Why was Adnan Syed released from prison after 23 years?

The decision to overturn the guilty verdict against Adnan Syed in the Hae Min Lee murder case was based on the prosecution and defense's claims that new evidence of two alternate suspects have been found. Furthermore, the unreliability of cell phone tower data that was used in his original trial was also noted.

Hae Min Lee's brother believes that the family was not provided with enough information regarding the hearing, and neither were they given enough time to prepare for it. He said:

"Going through it again is like a living nightmare."
Breaking: Brother of Hae Min Lee files notice that he is appealing decision to free Adnan Syed…

Zy Richardson, spokesperson for Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office, said in a statement,

“We truly empathize with Hae Min Lee’s family, who believed they had resolution and are now being re-traumatized by the misdeeds of the prior prosecutors.”

The prosecution is now waiting for DNA analysis to determine if Syed's case can be dismissed or if a new trial will be pursued.

Brief look into Hae Min Lee's murder

Hae Min Lee (1980-1999)Those who are celebrating the release of her convicted killer, Adnan Syed, should reflect on this young woman’s life and her family’s unending pain.

Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed, both students at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, dated before 1999. On January 13, 1999, Hae Min Lee disappeared without a trace, just a little while after she broke up with Syed. Weeks later, on February 9, her partially-buried body was found by the police in Leakin Park, Baltimore.

Mobile records determined that Syed, then her former boyfriend, could have been around the area when she was murdered. Her autopsy report confirmed that she had died of manual strangulation.

18-year-old Syed was charged with and convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery and false imprisonment and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years. He has already served 23 years of his life sentence. Over the years, he has maintained his innocence in Hae Min Lee's murder.

Lee, a Korean-American high school student who lived with her mother and brother, was reported missing by her family after she failed to pick up her younger cousin from daycare.

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