Why Is Adnan Syed of ‘Serial’ Still in Jail After His Conviction Was Vacated?

When Sarah Koenig and her team released the first Serial podcast (2014), the trial and conviction of Adnan Syed became a topic of interest worldwide. Though people disagreed about whether Syed (who became known simply as “Adnan”) was guilty or innocent, nearly everyone saw flaws in his defense and subsequent conviction in 2000.

At the time Serial went live, Adnan had spent 15 years behind bars, and it looked like it would stay that way. However, in 2016, a Baltimore Circuit Court judge took evidence uncovered in Koenig’s podcast and vacated Adnan’s sentence. He became entitled to a new trial with that ruling.

Last March (2018), a Maryland appeals court upheld that ruling (the vacated conviction) for a separate reason. Now, as Adnan waits for a new trial and more appeals — this time, by the prosecution looking to uphold the conviction — he’s been languishing in jail. That’s the U.S. criminal justice system for you.

Adnan will stay in jail until the appeals process ends.

Adnan Syed in high school | HBO

From September through November of last year, Adnan’s attorneys filed briefs and delivered oral arguments to the Maryland Court of Appeals. As the lawyers documenting the trial in their blog noted, these actions came more than two years after a judge granted him a new trial.

All the while, he’s waited in jail for that day, and 2019 marks Adnan’s 20th year behind bars. This final appellate court can either uphold the lower courts’ findings or reject them and uphold Adnan’s conviction. There is no higher court to which the case can go in Maryland.

If the Maryland Court of Appeals upholds the rulings granting him a new trial, the only way for the state to continue appealing would be to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. (The same goes for Adnan and his defense.)

So, when the latest appellate court makes its ruling — possibly in the coming months — we’ll know where the case will go next.

In one scenario, Maryland prosecutors could decline to try Adnan again, (taking into account the new evidence), thereby setting him free. Or a judge could allow him to be freed on bail while awaiting a new trial (should the state force it). But there aren’t any hints about which side will win.

HBO documentary about the Syed case coming in March

While Maryland’s Court of Appeals deliberates on the case, HBO is prepping the release of a new documentary, The Case Against Adnan Syed. Directed by Amy Berg, who was nominated for an Oscar for Deliver Us From Evil (2006), it picks up the story around the time Serial aired and promises “new discoveries” in the case.

Berg began production in 2015, so it will be about four years in the making by the time HBO airs it in March. It will run in four parts, according to the trailer released February 5.

Given the current deliberation by the appeals court and the release date on HBO, it could end up being exquisite timing for the filmmakers and the premium cable network. Either way, it will be an anticipated film on the spring calendar.

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