Verdicts & Settlements

How much is a year of wrongful incarceration worth? $1.5M is too high, federal judge rules


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A federal judge in Manhattan has cut the award for a man wrongfully convicted of rape from $18 million to $12 million.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin reduced the award to Alan Newton in a decision (PDF) on Friday, the New York Times, the New York Daily News and Reuters report. Her decision requires Newton to accept the reduced amount or undergo a new trial.

Scheindlin concluded the award amounted to $1.5 million for each year of wrongful incarceration and was too large when compared to comparable cases.

Newton received damages as a result of New York City’s inability to find a rape kit to allow Newton to test the DNA and challenge his 1985 conviction for sexual assault. The city finally found the evidence in 2005. A DNA test excluded Newton as the perpetrator, and he was released from prison the next year when his conviction was vacated.

Newton spent about 22 years behind bars, but 10 years of his sentence was served concurrently with a sentence for the attempted sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl, Scheindlin said in her opinion. Thus his wrongful incarceration was for only 12 years, and the $18 million award amounted to $1.5 million per year, Scheindlin concluded.

Scheindlin had previously reversed the entire award, ruling that the city’s delay in producing the evidence was due to negligence and didn’t rise to a level of a constitutional violation. The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in February 2015 and returned the case to Scheindlin.

In her latest opinion, Scheindlin said verdicts in other cases amounted to about $1 million or less per year of wrongful incarceration, compared to Newton’s award of $1.5 million a year. Cases awarding more than $1 million a year generally involved aggravating circumstances not present in Newton’s case, Scheindlin said.

Newton’s lawyer, John Schutty, told the Times and the Daily News that Scheindlin’s decision was “shocking.” The case is Newton v. City of New York.

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