EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Delving Deeper Into Maryland's "Interest of Justice" Standard for the Adnan Syed Remand

Given that Adnan Syed now has to prove that it is "in the interest of justice" to reopen his postconviction proceeding so that Asia McClain can testify, I thought it made sense to review some of the Maryland case law interpreting that phrase. The first case that I came across is interesting based upon somewhat of a parallel between it and the prosecution of Adnan.

The case in question is Isley v. State, 743 A.2d 772 (Md.App. 2000). In Isley, William Isley was charged with several crimes, including reckless endangerment. Just as in Adnan's case, the prosecution filed a motion under Maryland Rule 4-263(d)(3), seeking disclosure of prospective alibi witnesses. Specifically, the motion asked for

[t]he name and address of each witness other than the defendant whom the defendant intends to call as a witness  to show that he was not present at the time, place, and date designated by the State. State alleges that the offenses occurred on or about December 10, 1997, at approximately 9:00 a.m. through 11:30 p.m., at 5838 Holly Springs Road, Capitol Heights, Maryland.

In response, just like in Adnan's case, the defense claimed that the prosecution's request was overly broad. Specifically, the defense claimed that the request required

the defendant to account for his whereabouts not only for virtually the entire day of December 10, 1997, but for other days "on or about" that same day, which in ordinary language suggests a four or five day period. 

The prosecution responded that it would "provide the following as to the time of the incident: 4:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m."

Meanwhile, in Adnan's case, the prosecution responded that

the State has identified, only upon inquest by this Court, that Ms. Lee was murdered sometime in the afternoon of January 13, 1999, but the State has contended it cannot establish the time of death with any further precision. Jay Wilds, according to the State, met Adnan Syed directly after the murder at a prearranged time and location and was present and assisted in the burial of Ms. Lee’s body in Leakin Park. While the State has 'paraphrased' Mr. Wilds' statements for various purposes, the State has not 'paraphrased' or revealed any information regarding the actual time(s) Mr. Wilds alleges this activity occurred.

Given that the prosecution didn't further narrow the timeline for Hae Min Lee's murder, there was mo problem when it later claimed that she had been killed by 2:36 P.M.

Conversely, the prosecution at Isley committed committed his crimes outside the 4:00 P.M.-11:30 P.M. window. After Isley was convicted, he moved for a new trial because he hadn't prepared for the prosecution's argument that his crimes were committed outside the 7.5 hour window established by the prosecution during discovery.

The trial judge was supposed to determine whether it was "in the interest of justice" to award the defendant a new trial, but he dismissed the defendant's motion out of hand. As a result, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland remanded back to the trial judge so that he could state the reasons why he was granting or denying the defendant's motion.

In doing so, the court noted the fuzzy nature of the "interest of justice" standard:

As to how a trial judge weighs or measures the “interest of justice” in the context of ruling on a Motion for New Trial, there is little guidance in the case law. One thing, however, is clear. The measurement must be made in terms of the impact the phenomenon in question had on the defense of the case. In the words of Judge Orth in Yorke..., the pertinent question is whether "there was a substantial or significant possibility that the verdict of the trier or fact would have been affected."

Unfortunately, there's no record of what happened in Isley, and the Court of Appeals of Maryland actually repudiated Isley in Merritt v. State. That said, I think that the case gives us a pretty decent sense of what the court will consider in the remand of Adnan's case: If there's a substantial or significant possibility that Kevin Urick affected the court's adjudication of Adnan's ineffective assistance claim by dissuading Asia from testifying and/or misrepresenting what she told him to the court, the court should grant the motion to reopen.



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