Tuesday, March 31, 2009

$2.6 Million for Wrongful Incarceration

At first glance it seems like a lot. But, after spending 14 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, Olmedo Hidalgo may not agree with that. The New York Times has the report.
New York City and State have agreed to pay $2.6 million to a man who served almost 14 years in prison before he was cleared in the 1990 Palladium nightclub shooting that left a bouncer dead, the man’s lawyer said on Monday.

The city will pay $2 million to the man, Olmedo Hidalgo, to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit he filed against the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the Police Department and other defendants, said the lawyer, Irving Cohen.

He said that the state would pay an additional $625,000 to resolve a case filed in the Court of Claims.

The District Attorney, Mr. Morgenthau defended his office’s actions in the case, saying the original convictions were based on “substantial evidence, including multiple eyewitness identifications and a confession.”

Mr. Hidalgo’s lawsuit against the city, charged that despite “clear-cut proof” that he was not guilty, the district attorney’s office “continued to dig in its heels until it had no choice — in light of the overwhelming factual support of Mr. Hidalgo’s innocence — but to consent to vacate his conviction and dismissal of his indictment.”

What Morgenthau didn't say in his statement was that there was another confession by, as it turned out, the real killer. That, along with other questions, might indicate that the case should never have ended in a conviction in the first place.

A while back when we discussed the Joshua Kezer case, we talked about the problem of over-zealous prosecutors who bend the rules. For me it's a fascinating question: whether these guys do it in a sincere attempt to further justice or if they simply become so ruthlessly competitive that they lose sight of truth and justice.

What category do you put Morgenthau in? Is it excusable that overturning a wrongful conviction can take years? Do you see this as a total disregard of the prisoner's rights?

What about the amount of the settlement? Wouldn't it exacerbate the economic crisis if too many of these cases came to light? Is it right for wronged prisoners to receive such windfall payouts? What do you think?

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