Syed v. State, No. 2519, Sept. Term, 2013

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtWoodward, C.J.
Citation181 A.3d 860,236 Md.App. 183
Decision Date29 March 2018
Docket NumberNo. 1396, Sept. Term, 2016,No. 2519, Sept. Term, 2013
Parties Adnan SYED v. STATE of Maryland State of Maryland v. Adnan Syed

236 Md.App. 183
181 A.3d 860

Adnan SYED
v.
STATE of Maryland

State of Maryland
v.
Adnan Syed

No. 2519, Sept. Term, 2013
No. 1396, Sept.
Term, 2016

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

March 29, 2018


Argued by: C. Justin Brown (Brown & Nieto, LLC, Baltimore MD), (Cate E. Stetson, Kathryn M. Ali, James W. Clayton, W. David Maxwell, Hogan Lovells US LLP, Washington, D.C.), all on the brief, for Appellant.

Argued by: Thiruvendran Vignarajah (DLA Piper LLP, Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen., on the brief) Baltimore, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: Woodward, C.J., Wright, Graeff, JJ.*

Woodward, C.J.

236 Md.App. 191

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. BACKGROUND ...196

A. Trial...196

1. Day of the Murder...197

a. Morning of January 13, 1999...197

b. Midday...197

c. Afternoon...198

d. Evening...201

e. Nighttime...202

2. Forensic Evidence...204

3. Verdict and Appeal...205

B. Post–Conviction Proceedings...206

THE STATE'S PROCEDURAL QUESTIONS ...210

I. The Scope of this Court's May 18, 2015 Remand Order ...210

A. Background...210

B. Contentions...213

236 Md.App. 192

C. Analysis...214

II. The Reopening of Syed's Post–Conviction Proceeding ...215

A. Background...215

B. Contentions...216

C. Analysis...217

III. Waiver of Syed's Claim of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Pertaining to the Cell Tower Location Evidence ...223

A. Legal Background...223

B. Reopened Post–Conviction Proceeding...229

C. Contentions on Appeal...230

D. Analysis...231

SYED'S QUESTIONS ON HIS CLAIMS OF INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL ...240

Standard of Review ...241

I. Trial Counsel's Failure to Pursue a Plea Deal with the State ...241

A. Background...241

B. Memorandum Opinion I...244

C. Analysis...245

II. Trial Counsel's Failure to Investigate McClain as a Potential Alibi Witness ...246

A. Background...246

1. First Hearing...246

2. First Appeal...249
181 A.3d 865
3. Second Hearing...250

4. Memorandum Opinion II...258

B. Deficient Performance...259

1. Contentions...259

2. Relevant Case Law...260
236 Md.App. 193
3. Analysis...269

C. Prejudice...276

1. Contentions...278

2. Analysis...278

D. Conclusion...285

Hae Min Lee ("Hae")1 was last seen on the afternoon of January 13, 1999, at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland. Less than a month later, on February 9, 1999, Hae's body was discovered in a shallow grave in Leakin Park located in Baltimore City, Maryland. Through investigation, Baltimore City authorities came to believe that appellant/cross-appellee, Adnan Syed, was responsible for Hae's death and charged Syed with first degree murder and related crimes.

On February 25, 2000, a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City returned verdicts of guilty against Syed for first degree murder, kidnapping, robbery, and false imprisonment. The court subsequently sentenced Syed to life imprisonment for first degree murder, thirty years for kidnapping (to run consecutive to the life sentence), and ten years for robbery (to run consecutive to the life sentence but concurrent to the thirty years for kidnapping). The conviction for false imprisonment was merged for sentencing purposes. On direct appeal, this Court affirmed the convictions in an unreported opinion, and in June 2003, the Court of Appeals denied Syed's petition for writ of certiorari. Syed v. State , No. 923, Sept. Term 2000 (filed March 19, 2003), cert. denied , 376 Md. 52, 827 A.2d 114 (2003).

The unusual procedural posture of this case began ten years after Syed's convictions, when he filed a petition for post-conviction relief on May 28, 2010. After a two-day hearing, the circuit court denied all nine of Syed's claims for post-conviction relief in January 2014.

236 Md.App. 194

Syed filed a timely application for leave to appeal to this Court, which we granted on February 6, 2015. After considering Syed's request to remand his appeal because of a newly obtained affidavit from Asia McClain, a potential alibi witness, we remanded the case to the circuit court by order dated May 18, 2015, for that court to decide whether to reopen Syed's post-conviction proceeding. We stayed the remaining question raised in Syed's appeal.

On remand, the circuit court reopened Syed's post-conviction proceeding and conducted a five-day evidentiary hearing in February 2016. Ultimately, the circuit court granted Syed a new trial on the grounds of ineffective assistance of trial counsel2 for counsel's failure to properly challenge the reliability of the evidence relating to the location of Syed's cell phone at the time that incoming calls were received on the night of the murder.

The State filed a timely application for leave to appeal on August 1, 2016, and Syed filed a conditional cross-application for leave to appeal. We granted both applications, lifted the stay imposed pertaining to Syed's original appeal, and consolidated the appeals. Accordingly, we will consider

181 A.3d 866

the questions and issues raised in both appeals, which we have rephrased and organized into the following questions:3

The State's Procedural Questions:

236 Md.App. 195
1. Did the post-conviction court abuse its discretion by exceeding the scope of this Court's May 18, 2015 remand order?

2. Did the post-conviction court abuse its discretion when it reopened Syed's post-conviction proceeding to consider the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for trial counsel's failure to properly challenge the reliability of the cell tower location evidence?

3. Did the post-conviction court err by determining that Syed did not waive his ineffective assistance of counsel claim pertaining to trial counsel's failure to properly challenge the reliability of the cell tower location evidence?4

Syed's Questions on His Claims of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel:

236 Md.App. 196
1. Did the post-conviction court err by holding that Syed's right to effective assistance of counsel was not violated when trial counsel failed to pursue a plea deal with the State?

2. Did the post-conviction court err by holding that Syed's right to effective assistance of counsel was not violated when trial counsel failed to investigate McClain as a potential alibi witness?

For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court, but do so by concluding that Syed's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated by trial counsel's failure to investigate McClain as a potential

181 A.3d 867

alibi witness. Accordingly, we remand the case for a new trial.

BACKGROUND

A. Trial

At trial,5 the State's theory was one of a scorned lover. The State described Syed as resentful when Hae ended her and Syed's on-again, off-again relationship in November of 1998. According to the State, this resentfulness only grew after Syed discovered that at the beginning of January 1999, Hae had begun dating Donald Cliendinst ("Don"). To make matters worse, Hae's new relationship quickly became common knowledge among students and teachers at Woodlawn High School, where both Hae and Syed were enrolled as students in the Magnet program for gifted students.

The State theorized that sometime before the school day ended on January 13, 1999, Syed asked Hae for a ride so that he could pick up his car at the repair shop, knowing that she would say yes. During that ride, Syed, a regular operator of Hae's Nissan Sentra, drove them to the Best Buy parking lot situated off Security Boulevard in Baltimore County, a location

236 Md.App. 197

frequented by them during their courtship. Central to the State's theory was that Syed murdered Hae between 2:15 p.m. and 2:35 p.m. in the Best Buy parking lot by strangling her and then placing her body in the trunk of her car. The State adduced evidence showing that later that night, Syed and Jay Wilds (the State's key witness) buried Hae's body in Leakin Park.

A summary of the evidence adduced at trial in a light most favorable to the State is set forth below.

1. The Day of the Murder

a. Morning of January 13, 1999

At 10:45 a.m. on January 13, 1999, Syed used his newly purchased cell phone6 to call Wilds's home phone. Syed asked Wilds if he had any plans that day, to which Wilds replied that he needed to go to the mall to purchase a birthday present for his girlfriend. Syed stated that he would give Wilds "a lift." Later that morning, Syed arrived at Wilds's house in a tan four-door Honda Accord, and the two drove to Security Square Mall.

After shopping, Syed told Wilds that he had to get back to school, because his lunch period was ending. During the drive to school, Syed told Wilds "how [Hae] made him mad," and declared, "I'm going to kill that bitch ...." Wilds dropped Syed off at school, and Syed permitted Wilds to drive his car and keep Syed's cell phone. Syed said that he would give Wilds a call when he was ready to be picked up.

b. Midday

As Wilds was leaving school, he used Syed's phone to call his close friend, Jennifer Pusateri, to see if he could come over to her house. Syed's cell phone records indicate that a call was placed to Pusateri's phone at 12:07 p.m. Pusateri's brother answered the phone and told Wilds to come over, even though

236 Md.App. 198

Pusateri was still at work. Pusateri was supposed to leave work around noon but was delayed that day. While at Pusateri's house, Wilds received a call from Syed, who stated that he was not ready to be picked up yet but that he needed to be picked up "at like 3:45 or something like that[.]"

181 A.3d 868

When Pusateri got home from work, she observed that Wilds had a cell phone with him and had driven a tan four-door car to her house. Pusateri also noted that Wilds "wasn't acting like [he] normally acts[,]" and "[h]e wasn't as relaxed as he normally is[.]"

c. Afternoon

Aisha Pittman, Hae's best friend, said that she saw Hae "[r]ight at the end of the school day at 2:15 [p.m.] in Psychology class." When Pittman saw Hae, Hae was talking to Syed. Rebecca Walker, a student and friend of Hae and Syed, said that she too "saw [Hae for] a few seconds after class let out" at 2:15 p.m. that day. Walker said that she "saw [Hae] heading towards the door [that would have led to where her car...

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7 practice notes
  • Skakel v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 19251
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 4, 2018
    ...alibi witnesses not subject to same impeachment as petitioner's other alibi witnesses, all of whom were family members); Syed v. State , 236 Md.App. 183, 196–98, 275–85, 181 A.3d 860, 2018 WL 1530300, *3, *45–49 (2018) (when state's case rested in part on testimony of witness who claimed to......
  • State v. Syed, No. 24
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 8, 2019
    ...or "Mr. Syed") conviction of first-degree murder of his ex-girlfriend, we direct readers to the Opinion of that court. Syed v. State, 236 Md. App. 183, 181 A.3d 860 (2018) ("Syed"). For purposes of our review of the issues before us, we shall include relevant facts as necessary as well as a......
  • State v. Syed, No. 24 Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 8, 2019
    ...conviction of first-degree murder of his ex-girlfriend, we direct readers to the Opinion of that court. 463 Md. 68 Syed v. State , 236 Md. App. 183, 181 A.3d 860 (2018) (" Syed "). For purposes of our review of the issues before us, we shall include relevant facts as necessary as well as an......
  • State v. Christian, No. 0392
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 26, 2018
    ...(1992); State v. Purvey, 129 Md. App. 1, 10 (1999); Cirincione v. State, 119 Md. App. 471, 485 (1998). In her dissent in Syed v. State, 236 Md. App. 183, 287-88 (2018) (Graeff, J., dissenting), Judge Graeff explained our application of the Strickland standards on appellate review as follows......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • Skakel v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 19251
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • May 4, 2018
    ...alibi witnesses not subject to same impeachment as petitioner's other alibi witnesses, all of whom were family members); Syed v. State , 236 Md.App. 183, 196–98, 275–85, 181 A.3d 860, 2018 WL 1530300, *3, *45–49 (2018) (when state's case rested in part on testimony of witness who claimed to......
  • State v. Syed, No. 24
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 8, 2019
    ...or "Mr. Syed") conviction of first-degree murder of his ex-girlfriend, we direct readers to the Opinion of that court. Syed v. State, 236 Md. App. 183, 181 A.3d 860 (2018) ("Syed"). For purposes of our review of the issues before us, we shall include relevant facts as necessary as well as a......
  • State v. Syed, No. 24 Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 8, 2019
    ...conviction of first-degree murder of his ex-girlfriend, we direct readers to the Opinion of that court. 463 Md. 68 Syed v. State , 236 Md. App. 183, 181 A.3d 860 (2018) (" Syed "). For purposes of our review of the issues before us, we shall include relevant facts as necessary as well as an......
  • State v. Christian, No. 0392
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • October 26, 2018
    ...(1992); State v. Purvey, 129 Md. App. 1, 10 (1999); Cirincione v. State, 119 Md. App. 471, 485 (1998). In her dissent in Syed v. State, 236 Md. App. 183, 287-88 (2018) (Graeff, J., dissenting), Judge Graeff explained our application of the Strickland standards on appellate review as follows......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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