Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Adnan Syed's PCR: The Dummies Guide to the New Motion Filed Today

There's been a new development in the post conviction relief hearing for Adnan Syed, and it's very "legalish" so I decided I'd write this little "Dummies Guide" for anyone who's a bit confused.

Earlier today, Adnan's lawyer, C. Justin Brown filed a motion asking the judge to include supplemental materials to the documents already filed as part of the five day PCR hearing that he sat through back in February.  This supplemental material consists of two letters, one from the State's prosecutor, Thiru Vignarajah (a.k.a Thorazine Vegetable), and one from Professor Michael Millerman from the Maryland School of Law.  So, what are these letters all about and why is it so important to include them in the record?

To parse that out, we'll need to go back to 1999 for a bit.....

Quick! Into the Time Machine!

In May of 1999 the State filed a motion to disqualify Christina Guitierezz as Adnan's attorney, for reasons that are unclear.  I haven't been able to find any documentation on why the State did this, so hopefully the Undisclosed team will cover this in one of their upcoming episodes covering the PCR hearing.

So, the State filed a motion to disqualify in May, it was argued before the judge in July and the judge dismissed the motion, allowing Guitierezz to go on to represent Adnan at his trial.  One has to stop for a moment and wonder how differently things would have gone if the judge had upheld the State's motion?

For the purposes of arguing the motion to disqualify, Adnan's family retained the services of Professor Michael Millerman, who successfully argued against the State's motion. 

So, now we get back in our DeLorean and head back to 2016....

It's February 2016, and Thiru Vignarajah has made a number of references to Professor Millerman throughout the 5 day PCR hearing, claiming that he was a member of Adnan's defense team back in 1999, and that this defense team made a number of decisions with regards to Adnan's defense, prior to the family retaining Christina Guitierezz.  Thiru asserted that this so-called defense team, through the offices of a private investigator, examined various potential alibi witnesses.  He notes that the P.I spoke to Asia, to a security guard at the Woodlawn Public Library (#UselessSteve?) and to Adnan's track coach.  He concludes by claiming that the defense team must have eliminated Asia as a reliable alibi witness based on the information supplied to them by the P.I.

Sounds reasonable right?  Well, it would be, if it wasn't for the fact that it's complete and utter bullshit.

Yes, a private investigator spoke to possible alibi witnesses, as well as other witnesses in the case.  He compiled his findings and these were later submitted to Guitierezz once she became Adnan's defense attorney.  Prior to Christina being retained, there were two lawyers involved in the case, and they are both mentioned in Professor Millerman's letter, and in the State's arguements during the PCR hearing.  Those lawyers are Mr Colbert and Mr Flore, and those of you who listen to the Undisclosed podcast will remember Chris Flore from the Undisclosed podcast episode Addendum 7: Making Bail in Baltimore.

Flore and Colbert represented Adnan during his bail hearings in 1999, as part of the Lawyers at Bail Project running in the Baltimore courts at that time.  Chris Flore was also the lawyer who attempted a number of times to gain access to Adnan after his arrest and during his interrogation by Detectives Ritz and McGillavery, only to be told that unless Adnan specifically requested a lawyer, by name, they were under no obligation to allow access (*spoiler alert* that's bullshit too, you don't have to ask for a lawyer by name).

This was Thiru's so-called 'Defense team,' the two lawyers who represented Adnan at his bail hearings, and the guy who's total involvement in the case boiled down to one afternoon in court to argue against a motion to dismiss.  Thiru seems to have a very "broad" idea of what constitutes a defense team.  But from the guy who thinks it's fine to not investigate or contact alibi witnesses, are we really that surprised?  All I can say is thank god this dude's not a defense attorney, because the prisons are overcrowded enough as it is.

So, back to today's filing.  The documents submitted by Adnan's lawyer today amount to a correction of the record, clarifying Professor Millerman's involvement in Adnan's case.  This includes a letter from Millerman himself which illustrates how the State misrepresented his role in Adnan's defense, and which clearly details his actual role in the case.  There is also included a letter from the State, admitting to the misrepresentation, and backing up Millerman's clarification of his role in the case.

So, why is it important to have these letters included?  Well, because Thiru's claims during the PCR hearing could reasonably lead the judge to conclude that there was a team of defense lawyers back in 1999 who were investigating and putting together a defense strategy, which Christian Guitierezz later adopted for the trial.  This simple isn't true, and while Mr Colbert and Mr Flore did their best to start some preliminary work on Adnan's defense, they did so in expectation that when the family retained a full-time defense attorney for Adnan, that person would take over, review their findings, and follow up as part of a robust defense investigation.

Christina Guitierezz never followed up on these initial alibi interviews, and that's the basis of Adnan's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.  Including these supplemental letters further backs up Adnan's claims because they make clear Professor Millerman's very limited role in the case, that he in no way participated in Adnan's defense, or was involved in investigating potential alibi witnesses.

That's my Dummies Guide to the latest motion filed in the Adnan Syed case, if you have  questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

C. Justin Brown's page with PDFs of the letters submitted

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