The Post Conviction Court vacated Adnan Syed’s sentence and conviction on June 30, 2016. You can read more about the Court’s ruling here. So what happens next?
Winning a post conviction is not the same as a not guilty verdict at the end of a trial. Jeopardy does not attach and the State could conceivably retry a defendant on the same charges. Here is an explanation of the post conviction process.
The State has ten days from the date of the ruling in which to file a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment with the Circuit Court. Filing this motion will stop the clock on any other deadlines. If filed, this motion would be ruled on by Judge Welch. I doubt it would get any traction. The Court would not have a deadline to rule on it, but I would expect the Court to rule quickly. The 30 day deadline to seek appellate review will run from the post conviction court’s ruling on the Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment, if filed.
The State has 30 days from the date of the ruling to file an Application for Leave to Appeal with the Court of Special Appeals (CSA). Here is a detailed explanation of Applications for Leave to Appeal. If the State files an Application, there are a few possible outcomes (I feel like I need a flow chart for this, but I’m not that technologically skilled):
- The CSA declines to hear the Application. Remember, the State does not have the right to appellate review from the grant of post conviction relief. The CSA has the discretion to grant or deny appellate review. The sheer volume of the CSA’s caseload cuts against granting appellate review. The CSA is an extremely busy court tasked with almost all direct appeals (appeals where the Court must hear the appeal) and discretionary appeals from guilty pleas, post convictions, and motions to reopen. If the CSA denies the Application, the State could file a Motion to Reconsider with the CSA. A Motion to Reconsider must be filed before the CSA issues the mandate (a mandate is issued by the court that decided the Application, usually about 30 days after a decision is filed. The mandate makes the decision final and not subject to further review by that court) or within 30 days of the filing of the Court’s decision, whichever is sooner. Then the 30 days starts from the ruling on the Motion to Reconsider. The CSA does not have a deadline in which to rule on the Application or Motion to Reconsider. While the Application is pending, the State could request that the post conviction court stay the relief granted pending the CSA’s ruling on the Application. In other words, the State could ask the post conviction court to press pause on its ruling while the CSA decides. I have seen stays granted and denied in similar circumstances.
- The CSA grants the Application. At that point, the Court could set it in for full briefing and oral argument. If the CSA goes that route, it is now treated as a full blown appeal, but solely on the issue upon which the CSA granted the Application. The CSA could affirm (agree with the post conviction court) or reverse (vacate the relief granted by the post conviction court). Applications for Leave to Appeal are not frequently granted. If the CSA takes the case, the losing side could ask Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to review the case through a Petition for Writ of Certiorari. The Court of Appeals grants review in a tiny fraction of cases that apply. The party seeking review has 45 days from the date of the CSA’s decision to seek review in the Court of Appeals.
Eventually, this case will make its way back down to the Circuit Court, the trial level. At that point, the State could attempt to retry Mr. Syed, could offer him some sort of plea, or could choose to not proceed with the case. As Mr. Syed’s attorney, C. Justin Brown, noted, there is still a long way to go. This most recent victory is one important step in a very long march.