NEW YORK – 01-31-2019 (PRDistribution.com) — Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated Kareem Bellamy’s civil rights lawsuit seeking damages for police and prosecutorial misconduct that caused his wrongful conviction. Mr. Bellamy’s lawsuit had been dismissed by Ann Donnelly, a federal district judge sitting in Brooklyn.
Mr. Bellamy was convicted in 1995 of a murder he did not commit and spent 14 years in prison. His conviction was vacated after the evidence against him was discredited and an earlier suspect confessed that he and a fellow gang member committed the murder.
In March 2012, Bellamy sued the police officers who framed him and the City of New York. The lawsuit sought to hold the City accountable for two unlawful policies of the Queens District Attorney’s Office that caused Bellamy’s wrongful conviction. First, the Queens D.A. had a policy of secretly paying thousands of dollars in benefits to witnesses while concealing that information from trial prosecutors. This policy—which the D.A. calls the “Chinese Wall”—prevented Bellamy’s trial prosecutor from knowing about or disclosing payments and promises his Office made to a crucial prosecution witness. Second, the Queens D.A. had a policy of deliberate indifference to prosecutorial misconduct, which caused Bellamy’s trial prosecutor to make improper, misleading remarks in his summation in order to secure a conviction.
The Second Circuit ruled that the City may be held liable for constitutional violations caused by a District Attorney’s policies. The court further held that both the trial prosecutor’s summation misconduct and the Queens D.A.’s concealment of witness benefits violated Mr. Bellamy’s constitutional right to a fair trial. This means Mr. Bellamy can now obtain discovery on the D.A.’s deliberate indifference to prosecutorial misconduct as well as its “Chinese Wall” policy of not disclosing benefits conferred on prosecution witnesses.
The Second Circuit also reinstated Bellamy’s claims against the police defendants, holding that a jury could find they fabricated evidence of Bellamy’s guilt and suppressed evidence of his innocence, in violation of his constitutional rights.
The court’s decision is a vindication for Mr. Bellamy, who has maintained his innocence for the past 25 years, 14 of them in prison. During those years Mr. Bellamy wrote hundreds of letters to lawyers insisting on his innocence. In 2004, one of those letters landed on the desk of Thomas Hoffman, a solo practitioner, who agreed to take Mr. Bellamy’s case. Mr. Hoffman spent seven years working pro bono to exonerate Mr. Bellamy alongside a team from Cravath, Swaine & Moore led by partners Antony Ryan and Darin McAtee.
During post-conviction proceedings Mr. Bellamy refused to accept any plea deal suggesting his guilt—even two that would have guaranteed his immediate release. Mr. Bellamy now hopes the Second Circuit’s decision can help others who are or have been wrongfully incarcerated.
Mr. Hoffman stated, “The Second Circuit’s decision is a tribute to the countless lawyers, paralegals, secretaries and investigators who worked thousands of hours pro bono to exonerate Mr. Bellamy. The decision renews our faith in our judicial system to set things right.”
Civil rights attorney Joel B. Rudin, who represented Mr. Bellamy on appeal, called the court’s decision “hugely important.” Mr. Rudin further stated, “This means that we can now obtain discovery about how many other wrongful convictions the Queens DA’s Office obtained through their illegal “Chinese Wall” policy.
For further information, contact Thomas Hoffman – 212-581-1180 (office), 917 589-6156 (cell), or [email protected].
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