Port: Shocked about what has happened to Adnan Syed? That can happen in North Dakota, too

Adnan Syed, whose case was made famous by the Serial podcast, is going back to prison thanks law in Maryland that is almost identical to what Marsy's Law added to North Dakota's state constitution.

Adnan Syed leaves the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland February 5, 2016.
REUTERS/Carlos Barria

MINOT, N.D. — Adnan Syed is a man in Maryland whose case was made famous by the "Serial" podcast, which, in its own right, was perhaps more responsible than any other single production for the modern popularity of true crime programming.

Syed was released after years in prison after prosecutors requested that the courts vacate his conviction amid concerns over a Brady violation.

The Brady v. Maryland U.S. Supreme Court precedent found that it was unconstitutional for prosecutors to withhold potentially exculpatory evidence from defendants. If the state has evidence that could be used in your defense, they have to turn it over. When you hear people talk about "discovery" in a criminal proceeding, this is what they're talking about.

In Syed's case, it turns out the prosecution had notes indicating someone else had been threatening the victim, Hae Min Lee, before she was murdered. Clearly, important stuff which should have been turned over. That it wasn't got Syed out of prison.

But now Syed may be heading back to prison, not because of anything having to do with his guilt, but because prosecutors, according to an appellate court, failed to properly notify Lee's family about the hearing where his conviction was vacated. Hae Min's brother, Young Lee, attended the hearing virtually but wasn't given enough time to be present in person.


Syed is free while the matter is appealed to Maryland's supreme court, but he could end up behind bars again until the hearing can be re-held.

Syed's original conviction, which put him in jail for 23 years, was vacated due to an error by the prosecution. Now he may go back to prison because of another error by the prosecution.

I ask you, dear readers, does that sound like justice?

What if I told you that something similar could happen in North Dakota?

Bob Wefald, a former North Dakota attorney general and retired judge, is a leading critic of Marsy's Law, which he said is unneeded and poorly worded, likely to result in costly litigation. Photo by Patrick Springer
Kathleen Wrigley, wife of current North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley, was one of the most prominent proponents of Marsy's Law in 2016.
Photo by Patrick Springer

Thanks to Marsy's Law, which was amended into our state constitution thanks to a ballot measure campaign financed by a sketchy billionaire , the same "victim's rights" laws that may send Syed back to prison exist here too.

Maryland's statutes, as quoted by the appellate court , state that victims and their families “should be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy, and sensitivity” and that they “should be notified in advance of dates and times of trial court proceedings in the case and … of post-sentencing proceedings.”

Article 1, Section 25 of our state constitution — the Marsy's Law amendment — states that victims have a "right to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim's dignity" as well as the "right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of, and to be present at, all proceedings involving the criminal or delinquent conduct, including release, plea, sentencing, adjudication, and disposition, and any proceeding during which a right of the victim is implicated."

What this means is that in North Dakota, like Maryland, a defendant could be put in prison, or kept in prison, not for any reasons having to do with evidence but because of some procedural snafu with the victims or their families.


Marsy's Law is terrible for many reasons.

It gives victims and their families the right to refuse to cooperate with defendants and defense lawyers as they try to find the truth.

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It's been used to hide the identity of law enforcement officers accused of illegal activity.

In the ongoing criminal proceedings against Shannon Brandt, who, in a case that has made national headlines , is accused of killing Cayler Ellingson, Marsy's Law was invoked as justification to withhold evidence from the defense team .

Now, in Maryland, a man whose conviction had been vacated has been sent back to prison not for reasons having to do with his guilt but because of the rights the law gives to victims.

That's wrong. It's one thing to be sympathetic to victims. It's another to impede justice.

I'm not sure what's going to happen in Maryland, but here in North Dakota, we ought to rip the Marsy's Law amendment out of our state constitution, wad it up into a ball, and throw it into the trash where it belongs.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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