Adnan Syed's Case Is Rejected by Supreme Court — What Can His Lawyers Do Next?

Adnan Syed during a 2016 court hearing.
Adnan Syed appearing at a 2016 court hearing. Getty

Adnan Syed's legal team says there are more options, despite the Supreme Court denial.

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied "Serial" podcast subject Adnan Syed's plea for a new trial, but lawyers for the man convicted of killing his high school girlfriend say they will keep fighting. 

Syed, found guilty of murdering of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee in 1999, has been fighting his conviction for years. The Maryland man was granted a new trial in 2016, but the state's highest court later reinstated his conviction. Syed's team then took its fight to the nation's high court, where it hit another roadblock.

He was sentenced to life in prison in 2000 and has steadfastly maintained his innocence. 

Syed's case gained national attention as the first case explored by the popular "Serial" podcast and a subsequent HBO documentary series titled "The Case Against Adnan Syed." He was 17 when he was arrested for Lee's killing. Syed was a popular honors student at Woodlawn High School, where Lee, a native of South Korea, also attended and was a respected athlete who played lacrosse and field hockey. They were both seniors when her family reported her missing in 1998. 

Less than a month later, her partially buried body was found in Baltimore's Leakin Park.

Syed's request for a new trial primarily rests with the testimony of acquaintance Jay Wilds, whose statements were false and contradictory, defense lawyers claim. Wilds said he helped Syed bury Lee's body.

Questions were also raised about Syed's former lawyer, the late Cristina Gutierrez, who allegedly failed to investigate an alibi provided by a fellow student for Syed's whereabouts at the time of the killing. Syed's counsel also said newly tested DNA evidence collected during the investigation did not match Syed or anyone else in the system. 

Syed's attorneys say they will not give up on their client despite the high court's denial. "We're deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court is not taking this case," said lawyer C. Justin Brown Monday, "but by no means is this the end."

Rabia Chaudry, an attorney and advocate for Syed, took to Twitter: "We will see you in Federal court."

What options are left for Syed and his legal team? Here are a few.

Habeus petition

Syed's lawyers could file a habeas corpus petition, claiming the federal Court of Appeals illegally denied his claim of ineffective counsel that was based on Gutierrez's failure to investigate the alibi claim. Gutierrez has since died. To obtain the writ, defense attorneys would have to submit proof of Syed's innocence. 

State actual innocence claim 

Syed could bring such a claim in Maryland state court. Precedent for this was established in a 2016 appeals decision that ruled an actual innocence claim substantiated by sworn alibi testimony was grounds for reversing a criminal conviction.

Parole petition

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has recently begun granting parole to juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison. 

“The governor talked about this issue in his original campaign, and it’s something that he gives serious attention to,” Administration Deputy Legal Counsel Chris Mincher said in an interview this week with Capital News Service. The first prisoner to be released under this practice is Navarus Mayhew, 42, who is scheduled to walk free this month after serving 24 years for first-degree murder, robbery and gun charges, The Baltimore Sun reported. 


Clemency is rarely granted, but governors are allowed to issue it in two categories: pardon or commutation. In the case of the former, a convict's offense is forgiven, but not overturned or removed from criminal records. In the latter, a sentence is reduced, either totally or partially.