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Syed’s Supreme Court appeal extended to Aug. 19

Chief justice grants one-month extension

The U.S. Supreme Court has given counsel for convicted murderer and “Serial” podcast subject Adnan Syed until Aug. 19 to file his request for the justices’ review of a Maryland high court decision that his trial attorney’s deficient representation did not affect the guilty verdict.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday granted Catherine E. “Cate” Stetson’s request for a one-month filing extension in light of her heavy workload in other federal cases that would have made it difficult for her to meet the original July 18 deadline.

In her successful request for an extension, Stetson provided a preview of her Supreme Court challenge to the Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision that reinstated Syed’s conviction and sentence of life in prison plus 30 years.

“This case presents an important question of federal law on which state and federal courts are now divided: whether trial counsel’s failure to investigate a credible, non-cumulative, and independent alibi witness is prejudicial under Strickland v. Washington,” Stetson wrote to the justices, referring to their landmark 1984 decision on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Stetson is with Hogan Lovells US LLP in Washington.

Syed’s coming appeal follows the Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision that the failure of Syed’s trial counsel to interview his sole alibi witness was deficient legal representation but had no “prejudicial” effect because her testimony would not have created “a substantial or significant possibility” that the jury’s verdict would have been for acquittal.

The uncontacted alibi witness, Asia McClain, stated in a post-trial affidavit that Syed was at a Woodlawn public library when prosecutors said the 1999 slaying of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, occurred.

That testimony, however, would have contradicted Syed’s statements regarding his whereabouts, which did not mention his having been at the library, the Maryland high court held.

The “Serial” podcast examined whether Syed’s case was prejudiced because his trial attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, failed to contact McClain. Gutierrez died in 2004.

When post-conviction proceedings were reopened based on the affidavit, Baltimore City Circuit Judge Martin P. Welch ruled in 2016 that Gutierrez’ failure to contact McClain had prejudicial effect and the conviction was vacated, allowing for a retrial.

The Court of Special Appeals upheld that decision.

However, the Court of Appeals reinstated the conviction in March and rejected Syed’s bid for reconsideration in April, prompting his coming Supreme Court appeal.

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