MANHATTAN (CN) - New York City agreed to pay $2.5 million to a Long Island man who won a groundbreaking ruling last year allowing him to file civil rights claims related to an offense to which he pleaded guilty, but insists he did not commit.
In 1998, Marcos Poventud was wrongly convicted of attempted murder and other crimes in connection to the robbery and shooting of livery cab driver Younis Duopo.
Though sentenced to 10 to 20 years, Poventud's fortunes turned as evidence at a co-defendant's trial revealed that he was misidentified in a photo lineup.
Years into his sentence, Poventud successfully challenged his convictions under Brady v. Maryland, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that obligates prosecutors to hand over exculpatory evidence.
When prosecutors threatened to pursue a lengthy appeals process, Poventud opted to leave prison after nine long years by falsely pleading guilty to a lesser charge of third-degree attempted robbery, he said.
New York City tried to fend off Poventud's subsequent civil rights claims by arguing that his plea forfeited his right to file a lawsuit.
The Second Circuit convened a rare en banc hearing to consider that question, and most of judges came down in Poventud's favor last year in a 9-4 opinion.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Gerard Lynch compared Poventud's choice at the time to that of John Proctor in Arthur Miller's drama "The Crucible," "who goes to the gallows rather than accept an offer that would let him go free in exchange for a false confession."
"It is difficult to expect such heroism of mere mortals," Lynch wrote. "Proctor, though based on a historical figure, is after all a fictional character, and even he first signed the false confession before having a change of heart. Poventud did what I suspect most ordinary human beings would do in his situation, even if they were innocent."
Poventud's claims survived summary judgment on remand back in Federal Court in March.
Rather than pursue the case to trial, the parties reached a settlement on Wednesday and the amount of the award was disclosed for the first time on Thursday.
His attorney Julia Kuan said in a phone interview that her client is "very satisfied with the settlement."
"Our client has finally gotten some vindication for everything that he's suffered, and he can finally put all of this behind him," she said.
The amount of the settlement is the same as the city paid Poventud's one-time co-defendant, Robert Maldonado.
The New York City Law Department defended its decision to settle in a statement.
"This case raised a novel legal issue concerning the resolution of the plaintiff's criminal charges and its effect on his civil claims," it said. "In light of the court's rulings continuing this litigation, an assessment of the evidentiary record and the substantial attorney's fees that could be awarded in this 2007 action, settlement of this matter was fair and in the best interest of the city."
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