March 19, 2019 Articles

Civil Rights Violations in Criminal Cases: A Meaningful Remedy?

There should be some consequence for outrageous misconduct that has been exposed.

By David Schoen

It is unlikely that there is a criminal-defense lawyer practicing in America who, in the course of defending a client at trial, has not encountered an overzealous prosecutor or law-enforcement officer who, perhaps out of a belief that the end justifies the means, has either withheld exculpatory evidence from a defendant, fabricated evidence against the defendant, or both. The recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Bellamy v. City of New York, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 2914 (2d Cir., Jan. 29, 2019) perfectly illustrates the use and importance of causes of action and remedies provided by civil-rights jurisprudence when these transgressions of the criminal defendant’s fundamental constitutional rights occur.

The case arises from the overturned conviction of Kareem Bellamy for the 1994 murder of James Abbott in Queens, New York—a case that received a great deal of media attention in and around New York at the time. Bellamy went to trial in Queens in 1995 and was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He professed his innocence at all times and protested that he was the victim of fabricated testimony and an improper summation. Bellamy appealed the conviction and sought post-conviction relief when his appeal failed, all the time making these same claims. He lost in every state and federal forum. 

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