The New York Times reports that Alan Newton, in prison for more than 20 years for a rape he did not commit, won $18.5 Million dollars for his troubles. Sadly, it appears he spent at least 10 extra years in prison, waiting for the police to find the rape kit that eventually demonstrated his innocence.
Remarkably, the jury found two officer liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress for failing to produce the kit. As the Times reports:
Mr. Newton, now 49, was released from prison in July 2006. On Tuesday, a jury ruled that the city had violated his constitutional rights, and found two police officers liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress for failing to produce Mr. Newton’s evidence when requested.
“I’m just real numb right now,” Mr. Newton said in an interview on Tuesday. “It hasn’t really sunk in. It’s so emotional. It’s something I’ve been fighting for the last four years, since I came home. I’m just glad things worked out at the end of the day.”
Wrongful imprisonment awards are becoming more common—with some states, like Ohio, leading the way in compensating wrongfully imprisoned individuals by making it easier for the wrongfully imprisoned to seek recovery. It is sad to think that, when DNA shows the convicted person is innocent, the human element can delay justice. Here, Mr. Newton requested the rape kit that exonerated him in 1995, and the police only produced in in 2005. That’s an extra decade of life lost, needlessly, because the police couldn’t bother to keep track of their evidence.
As attorneys who represent victims of civil rights violations like discrimination and police misconduct, I can tell you that this case may well lead to improvements in how New York processes evidence. And for people worried about the costs of the lawsuit, my question is: how else do you get a broken system to fix itself? By holding them accountable, things might change.
Here’s a profile video from the Innocence project:
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