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New York Man Wrongfully Convicted of Murder Permitted to Amend Federal Suit

New York Man Wrongfully Convicted of Murder Permitted to Amend Federal Suit

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has allowed a man to amend his wrongfully convicted suit to include additional facts on his claims and include a new claim alleging a Brady violation based on recent information.

Israel Vasquez was convicted on February 26, 1996, of the murder of Denise Raymond in the New York Supreme Court, Bronx County. Following an appeal, Vasquez’ conviction was vacated and his indictment dismissed on August 23, 2007. On August 20, 2010, Vasquez filed suit in the district court against the City of New York and police officers Michael Donnelly, Thomas Aiello, and Annabella Nieves, seeking damages for wrongful conviction and malicious prosecution. Vasquez subsequently filed a motion for leave to amend his complaint with additional facts and to include a Brady claim (the unlawful concealing of evidence) based on new information. On August 14, 2012, the district granted the motion, determining that the defendants would not be prejudiced.

Vasquez sought to amend his suit to include a new allegation on recent information that defendant Aiello concealed a videotape during Vasquez’ murder trial. Also, Vasquez desired to add facts to his existing claims. In response, the defendants argued that they would be prejudiced by having to (1) respond to allegations as to Charles McKinnon, Vasquez’ deceased co-defendant, (2) provide more discovery of a previous murder that Vasquez had been arrested for but never convicted of, also focusing on the testimony of Miriam Tavares, an eyewitness to that murder, and (3) reveal information about the videotape that the defendants claim was lost, therefore requiring them to locate a witness who could testify to the video’s contents, though the witness had not been included in the original suit, together causing “inexcusable” delay on the part of Vasquez.

Federal law provides that amendments are prejudicial to a party if they “(i) require the opponent to expend significant additional resources to conduct discovery and prepare for trial; (ii) significantly delay the resolution of the dispute; or (iii) prevent the plaintiff from bringing a timely action in another jurisdiction.” The district court found no prejudice to either Vasquez of the defendants as to any of these elements.

Specifically, the district court held that neither the deceased McKinnon nor the witness Tavares would require a significant amount of additional resources from the defendants. McKinnon had been an important figure in the second murder and “the issues raised by his death were therefore problems they faced from the beginning of the litigation.” As for Tavares, the court determined by the defendants’ own words that she was going to be deposed anyway.

The district court further found no delay with the videotape as “the alleged Brady violation only came to light in February 2012, after McKinnon’s trial records were unsealed.” Also, the district court rejected the defendants’ argument that resolution of the suit would be delayed granting Vasquez’ motion as they would have to begin their discovery anew. The court reasoned that “[t]his might be persuasive were defendants able to show that they had completed most of their discovery . . . [but they] have not even begun to take depositions.”

Concluding that the defendants would not suffer prejudice, the district court granted Vasquez leave to amend his suit. See: Vasquez v. City of New York, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114611 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 14, 2012); Vazquez (sic.) v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. N.Y.), Case no. 1:10-cv-06277.

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Vasquez v. City of New York

Vazquez (sic.) v. City of New York