May 18 2011

Federal Judge Reverses Jury Award Of $18.6 Million To Alan Newton For 12 Years Wrongful Imprisonment

Alan Newton was arrested in 1984 for the rape, robbery and assault of a 25-year-old woman in New York City’s Bronx borough. The victim identified Newton from a photo lineup, and she later identified him from a live lineup.

Newton’s alibi defense during his trial in 1985 was that on the evening of the crime he went to a movie in Brooklyn with his fiancé, her daughter, and other relatives, and he spent the night at his fiancé’s home in Queens — which is about 10 miles from the Bronx. The victim identified Newton in court and the jury convicted him. Newton was sentenced to 13-1/2 to 40 years in prison.

Alan Newton after his release in July 2006.

Alan Newton after his release in July 2006.

In 1994 Newton sought DNA testing of the victim’s rape kit that included the assailant’s semen, but the judge denied it because the prosecution said the rape kit couldn’t be located. Newton again sought DNA testing in 2005. The Property Clerk’s Office initially reported, as it had for almost 12 years, that the rape kit couldn’t be found, but it was eventually located in a warehouse. Testing of the semen in March 2006 determined that Newton’s DNA did not match that of the assailant. Based on that new evidence his conviction was overturned and he was released from prison on July 6, 2006, after almost 22 years of incarceration from the time of his arrest.

Newton filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York, the New York City Police Department and several officers, alleging among other claims that their conduct constituted reckless disregard for Newton’s constitutional right to due process because the city’s system for safeguarding DNA evidence and a defendant’s access to it was inadequate. After a 3-1/2 week trial, on October 19, 2010 the jury awarded Newton a total of $18,592,000 for 12 years of wrongful imprisonment from 1994 when he first sought the DNA testing of the rape kit that the NYPD claimed it couldn’t locate. to 2006 when he was released.

The city filed a motion challenging the verdict. On May 12, 2011 U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin reversed the jury’s verdict, ruling that Newton had proved the city acted negligently, but not that any city employee had intentionally violated his constitutional rights by withholding evidence for DNA testing. In her 31-page ruling Judge Scheindlin wrote that Newton had not proved any city employees “withheld evidence in deliberate contravention or disregard of his right to due process. Newton’s due process claim cannot be sustained absent proof that a city employee acted with the requisite constitutional culpability in withholding evidence.” Judge Scheindlin wrote, “It is not enough for Newton to have shown that the city’s post-trial evidence management system is disorganized. As disturbing as such negligence may be, in the end that is what it is: mere negligence.”

Newton told reporters after the ruling, “I’m totally shocked. The city’s saying I’m not entitled to anything, and no one has to answer for what happened to me anymore. … This is the last thing I expected.”

Newton’s lawyer, John Schutty told reporters he would appeal the judge’s ruling that he thinks is contrary to the evidence the jury relied on in making their award, because “The Police Department had the evidence in their possession during the 12 years he repeatedly requested it and they didn’t produce it.”

See Justice Denied’s article about the jury’s $18.592 million award in October 2010.

By Hans Sherrer
Justice Denied

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