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Court Orders New Trial

Plaintiff commenced this action seeking damages for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, based upon his arrest for assault which later became a murder charge for acts allegedly committed. Plaintiff was incarcerated for 333 days. The charges remained pending for nearly 8 more months after plaintiff was released from custody. A New York Criminal Lawyer said that, all charges were dismissed on the motion of the Bronx County District Attorney. After trial in this action, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiff, awarding damages to plaintiff in the sum of 2.7 million dollars for false arrest and 7.1 million dollars for malicious prosecution.

A Bronx Criminal Lawyer said that, defendant, the City of New York (City) now moves pursuant to CPLR 2221 and 4404 (a) for an order (1) setting aside the jury’s verdict on liability as a matter of law, or, in the alternative, (2) setting aside the jury’s verdict and ordering a new trial as the jury’s liability verdict is against the weight of the evidence, or, in the alternative, (3) dismissing the malicious prosecution claim for failure to prove proximate cause, or, in the alternative, (4) setting aside the damages verdict and ordering a new trial on damages as the jury award was excessive and contrary to the weight of the evidence, and for other related relief.

Plaintiff opposes the motion. A New York Criminal Lawyer said the City’s renewal of its trial motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to establish a prima facie case or for a directed verdict is denied as the court adheres to its original decision on the record.

The issue in this case is whether the court erred in denying defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint.

The Court held that, a court may set aside a verdict where the verdict is contrary to the weight of the evidence or in the interest of justice. However, “a jury verdict should not be set aside as against the weight of the evidence unless the jury could not have reached its verdict on any fair interpretation of the evidence.” Moreover, “issues of credibility are for the jury, which had the opportunity to observe the witnesses, and its resolution of credibility issues is entitled to deference.” The standard of review for whether a jury verdict should be set aside as excessive or inadequate is whether the award “deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation.”

In an action for false arrest based upon an arrest and imprisonment without a warrant, “the defendant has the burden of proving legal justification probable cause as an affirmative defense.” A New York City Criminal Lawyer said an arrest made without a warrant raises a presumption that it is unlawful and the defendant has the burden of proving justification, including “reasonable cause” to arrest. Justification may be established by a showing that the arrest was based on probable cause at the time of the arrest. Probable cause is defined as a good faith belief based on such grounds as would induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious person, under the circumstances, to believe plaintiff had committed a crime. Although information provided by an identified citizen accusing another individual of the commission of a specific crime is sufficient to provide the police with probable cause to arrest, the failure to make further inquiry when a reasonable person would have done so may be evidence of lack of probable cause.

The elements of a cause of action for malicious prosecution are: (1) the commencement or continuation of a criminal proceeding by the defendant against the plaintiff, (2) the termination of the proceeding in favor of the accused, (3) the absence of probable cause for the criminal proceeding and (4) actual malice.

Generally, on causes of action for malicious prosecution, “Once a suspect has been indicted the grand jury indictment creates a presumption of probable cause to believe that the suspect committed the crime. That presumption can be overcome by a showing that the conduct of the police deviated so egregiously from acceptable police activity as to demonstrate an intentional or reckless disregard for proper procedures.’ The presumption may also be overcome by a showing that the police failed to make further inquiry when a reasonable person would have done so’ and that failure may evidence lack of probable cause to arrest.’ Malice may be shown by proof that probable cause was lacking or that the conduct was reckless or grossly negligent.”

In the instant matter, plaintiff adduced evidence at trial which showed, among other things, that the investigation of the lead detective deviated from proper police procedures so much that it “demonstrate[d] an intentional or reckless disregard for proper procedures.” At trial, the detective conceded, among other things, that the detectives never interviewed any of the witnesses who called 911 at the time of the shooting. The detective also acknowledged at trial that it would have been important to interview all of the individuals named or described in the witness statements before he made an arrest, but he did not do so. The detective agreed, at trial, that none of the physical evidence connected plaintiff to the crime. In addition, the evidence adduced at trial showed that there were times during the investigation when the detective failed to make further inquiry when a reasonable person would have done so. The detective admitted that statements from the eyewitness were inconsistent with the statements of another witness but he did not recall ever sharing these inconsistencies with anyone, including the District Attorney. One of the witness statements not only contradicted the other witnessses version of events but implicated one witness as a participant in the shooting and may have resulted in co-defendant’s release and the defendant’s arrest. Thus, the jury could have reasonably concluded that the presumption was overcome and the requisite malice demonstrated. Therefore, the jury’s finding in favor of the plaintiff on the causes of action alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution was supported by legally sufficient evidence and was not contrary to the weight of the evidence.

With regard to the question of the damages awarded, they were excessive and deviated materially from what would constitute reasonable compensation. At the time of his arrest, plaintiff was a senior in high school, a “B” student and was among the twelve players who made All City in basketball. Plaintiff voluntarily went to the police precinct to cooperate in the investigation of a crime he knew he did not commit, and which he thought, at the time, was an assault. Plaintiff was arrested and arraigned for murder within approximately 20 hours and incarcerated at Rikers Island for approximately 11 months. He was released from custody on bail while the charges remained pending for 8 more months until ultimately all of the charges were dismissed on the motion of the bronx District Attorney. In addition to the indignity, deprivation and trauma of being in jail, plaintiff suffered physical injuries from other inmates. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said the plaintiff’s mother testified at trial that when he returned home he was “a changed person” and “a little shell shocked.” At trial, plaintiff testified that even to the present day he does not feel readjusted.

Accordingly, the Court held that, defendant’s motion is granted only to the extent of ordering a new trial on the issue of damages unless plaintiff stipulates to accept a reduction in the jury’s award of damages to the sum of $500,000 as to the cause of action for false arrest and 1.6 million dollars as to the claim for malicious prosecution within thirty (30) days of service of a copy of this order with notice of entry.

If you have been a victim of an unlawful arrest by virtue of an alleged drug crime, you need to seek the advice of a Bronx Drug Crime Attorney. Our Bronx Criminal Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates will stand by you and see to it that your constitutional rights will be protected. Call us for free legal advice.

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