Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime.
Elizabethtown, NC – There are over 60 people sitting in jail in North Carolina right now despite the fact that they have been declared innocent in court, according to a recent USA Today investigation. Some of the prisoners are totally unaware of the legal status of their case and don’t even know that they have been declared innocent, so many of them are not even fighting for their freedom.
The investigation found dozens of cases where men have been sent to jail for nonviolent gun possession offenses, yet it was not illegal for them to have a gun. All of the cases in question result from a legal misunderstanding that has allowed police and prosecutors to throw people in jail for exersizing their right to bear arms.
It is a federal crime for felons to possess firearms, and while all of the men arrested under these laws did have criminal records, they were not technically felons. This detail was specifically codified after the cases in question were decided, so as far as the court is concerned, the prisoners were still guilty of a crime.
USA today reports:
Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.
The courts are now afraid to overturn the rulings because then they would be setting a precedent for other inmates to challenge their own imprisonment.
“We can’t be outcome driven. We’ve got to make sure we follow the law, and people should want us to do that. [We are] looking diligently for ways, within the confines of the law, to recommend relief for defendants who are legally innocent,” Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte told reporters.
However, many legal experts are saying that the government has a responsibility to overturn these rulings and inform the prisoners about the status of their cases.
“If someone is innocent, I would think that would change the government’s reaction, and it’s sad that it hasn’t. I have trouble figuring out how you rationalize this. These are innocent people. That has to matter at some point,” Debra Graves, an assistant federal public defender in Raleigh said.
Sadly the rusty cogs of the bureaucracy turn at such a rate that “justice” is a but a pipe dream for most. The system would rather keep innocent people locked away than admit a mistake.
John Vibes is an author, researcher and investigative journalist who takes a special interest in the counter culture and the drug war. In addition to his writing and activist work he organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference, which features top caliber speakers and whistle-blowers from all over the world. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can find his 65 chapter Book entitled “Alchemy of the Timeless Renaissance” at bookpatch.com.