After 20 Years In Prison, Exonerated Man Can't Have $18.5M

By Robin Enos on May 18, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A jury awarded Alan Newton $18.5 million for wrongful conviction of rape. Newton served 22 years in prison, before DNA evidence exonerated him. In Newton's civil suit against the City of New York, U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin has granted the City's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

"No reasonable jury could have concluded" the City of New York deliberately denied Newton his constitutional rights, or withheld evidence," Judge Scheindlin ruled last week.

Finding that "a showing of mere negligence was not enough," Judge Scheindlin overruled Newton's $18.5 million jury verdict against the City, reports the New York Times.

Newton served 22 years in a New York prison for the 1985 rape conviction. DNA evidence proved Newton could not have committed the rape, reports the Times.

City officials testified the rape kit was lost between 1985 and 2005, when NYPD found it in a warehouse.

Newton had pressed the City of New York to run DNA tests on the rape kit since 1994. From 1994 until 2005, the City responded with a simple "we can't find the rape kit." That dismissive response stymied Newton's attorneys' efforts to compel a DNA test for eleven years. During that eleven-year period, Newton remained in prison.

After The Innocence Project took on Newton's case, the DNA evidence, useless in 1984, was found at a Queens warehouse in 2005. A New York court exonerated Newton in 2006, reports the New York Daily News.

"Notwithstanding grave deficiencies in the city's evidence management system," wrote Judge Scheindlin, "Newton's due process claim cannot be sustained absent proof that a city official acted with the requisite constitutional culpability in withholding evidence."

The court's holding imposing a requirement that a plaintiff show willful misconduct by government officials in Alan Newton's wrongful conviction case would appear to allow a broad good-faith defense to cases brought under exceptions to the sovereign immunity doctrine.

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