The ACLU recently launched an attack against the Justice Department for continuing to keep innocent people locked up in jail. The civil rights organization said the government has continued keeping some people in prison despite knowing that they have not committed any federal crime.
An investigation conducted by USA Today earlier this year revealed that there were some 60 people behind bars on gun charges despite rulings from lower courts saying they never committed a federal crime. The Justice Department originally argued the people should remain in federal prison regardless, but has since changed its mind.
The issue that led to the trouble is that federal law bans people from having a gun if they have previously been convicted of a crime that could have put them in prison for more than a year. In North Carolina, however, state law sets the maximum punishment for a crime based on the prior record of whoever committed it, meaning two people who committed the same crime could face vastly different maximum sentences.
For years, federal courts there said that this difference did not matter. If someone with a long record could have gone to prison for more than a year, then all who had committed that crime are felons and cannot legally have a gun, the courts said. But last year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said judges were wrong, instead they ruled that only those people who could have faced more than a year in prison for their crimes qualify as felons. The decision meant that thousands of low-level criminals never broke federal law by possessing a gun.
Since the investigation, federal judges in North Carolina ordered the government to release at least 22 inmates. This was one of the largest incidents of overturning federal convictions in recent memory. Reports indicate that at least 10 other former prisoners were freed from supervised release, and dozens of other federal inmates from North Carolina remain waiting for a judge to decide whether their convictions must also be overturned.
Despite what seems like good news for the inmates who have been awaiting their release, a recent letter from the ACLU of North Carolina reveals that U.S. Attorneys’ offices continue to stall the process, causing delays in the release of deserving prisoners. Defense attorneys have raised 17 cases claiming that their clients are innocent but the government prosecutors continue to fight all but five of the cases.
The problem with this behavior is that it leads to the continued incarceration of innocent people. Prosecutorial inaction can be as damaging as prosecutorial misconduct, as this instance demonstrates. Even though the government could have easily notified the inmates whose convictions ought to be overturned, they never did so. As a result, the burden of identifying those who have been wrongly incarcerated has fallen on defense attorneys.
If you’ve been caught up in a situation that requires the help of a skilled Charlotte criminal defense lawyer, you can turn to the attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC who will provide you with the best possible defense against any charges brought against you. For a free consultation, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828.
“ACLU protests the lag in releasing ‘innocent’ prisoners,” by Brad Heath, published at USAToday.com.
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