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$175,000 Awarded to New York Prisoner’s 686 Days Unconstitutional Post Release Supervision

by David M. Reutter

On Dec. 4, 2020, a federal district court in New York awarded $175,000 to a former state prisoner who was imprisoned for 686 days as a result of an unconstitutionally imposed term of post-release supervision (PRS).
The prisoner, Shawn Michael Vincent, entered into a plea agreement and was sentenced to a five-year prison term on September 17, 2001. No PRS was imposed by the court. But when Vincent was released on January 14, 2005, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) administratively imposed five years PRS upon him. He was then arrested on November 14, 2005, and charged with failure to comply with terms of the PRS.

While awaiting adjudication on that charge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit handed down its June 6, 2005, ruling in Earley v. Murray, 451 F.3d 71 (2d Cir. 2006), holding that it is unconstitutional for individuals to be subjected to administratively imposed PRS where no court has sentenced them to it.

Despite that ruling, an administrative judge found on August 29, 2006, that Vincent had violated the PRS terms, and so he remained imprisoned until a DOCCS official released him on March 21, 2007, with another term of PRS. Vincent was then again charged on April 5, 2007, with violating that PRS term, and he was sentenced to an additional two years in prison as a result.

At that point Vincent sought habeas corpus relief in state court. That petition was granted, and he was released on July 31, 2008. Vincent then sued multiple DOCCS officials. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York granted summary judgment for Defendants on August 29, 2011, finding they enjoyed qualified immunity. Vincent appealed to the Second Circuit, which on June 4, 2013, upheld the lower court’s dismissal of all Defendants except for Anthony J. Annucci—the former DOCCS Counsel, later Executive Director and Counsel—finding that “the district court erred in ruling that Annucci was entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law.” See: Vincent v. Yelich, 718 F.3d 157 (2d Circ. 2013).

Annucci appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to grant a writ of certiorari in 2015, paving the way for Vincent to return to the district court and ask for summary judgment. In granting that motion, the Court noted that the Second Circuit had already determined that Annucci was aware of and understood the Early decision as soon as June 20, 2006, though he could have waited to take action until August 31, 2006, which is when the motion for rehearing was denied. The higher court had also already found Annucci “did not take objectively reasonable steps” to conform DOCCS policy to Early until at least April 2008. See: Betances v. Fischer, 837 F.3d 162 (2d Cir. 2016).

The Court’s summary judgement in Vincent’s favor was granted on September 15, 2020, in an order that found Annucci liable for violating Vincent’s Constitutional rights to due process and freedom from unlawful imprisonment. It also found Annucci was not entitled to qualified immunity. See: Vincent v. Yelich, 486 F. Supp. 3d 650, USDC (W.D.N.Y. 2020).

An inquest hearing on the issue of damages was held on November 24, 2020. The Court found Vincent suffered a “high-degree of anger, frustration, and depression” from his illegally imposed PRS, which actually lasted 1,015 days, though only 686 of those followed the Early ruling. His anguish was exacerbated by the trivial nature of his violations: possessing a credit card and failing to report an address change. Finally, while imprisoned for those violations, Vincent witnessed multiple traumatic assaults, and he was also denied permission to attend his father’s funeral.

In a ruling issued on December 4, 2020, the Court found a compensatory damages award of $175,000 was appropriate. It also found Vincent was entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs and ordered Vincent’s attorney to file an application for same. The case has been stayed while the defendant’s appeal the latest ruling. See: Vincent v. Yelich, 505 F.Supp.3d 187, USDC (W.D.N.Y. 2020).

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Related legal cases

Vincent v. Yelich

Vincent v. Yelich

Betances v. Fischer

Vincent v. Yelich