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ACLU pushing feds to right wrongful convictions, sentences

Posted August 8, 2012

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— As many as 3,000 federal prisoners in North Carolina could be serving unfair sentences, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the U.S. Department of Justice isn't doing enough to solve the problem.

Anyone convicted of a prior crime punishable by more than a year in prison cannot legally own a gun. For about two decades, federal prosecutors in North Carolina applied that law using the worst-case scenario, meaning a defendant's actual sentence didn't matter.

Prosecutors used the theory that a defendant was guilty of a federal weapons violation if someone with a longer rap sheet could have gotten a year for a previous crime. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last August that wasn't a fair application of the law.

The ACLU says some people were unjustly convicted, while others were given as much as a decade more in prison than they should have received.

Chris Brook, state legal director for the group, said federal prosecutors haven't identified or notified most of the people wrongly convicted or sentenced. In some cases, he said, they have used procedural moves to keep innocent people in jail.

"First, identify who's potentially entitled to this relief. Second, where there is that relief, don't stand in the way of it coming down, and third, let's do this in a timely fashion," he said.

The anniversary of the appeals court ruling is next Friday, and Brook said prisoners could have a harder time appeals after that deadline.

Allison Price, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the agency is reviewing the ACLU's request.

"We are in the process of finalizing our position, within the confines of the law and in the interests of justice, as to how best to provide relief for defendants who, by virtue of a subsequent court decision, are no longer guilty of a federal crime," Price said in a statement.

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  • dollibug Aug 9, 2012

    ****dollibug, but I think you've witnessed innocent people refuse the plea deals and get railroaded here in Wake County, too.

    I have indeed....there is CORRUPTION AND COVER UP EVERYWHERE....I am still wondering just why the citizens of Wake County do not speak up and VOICE their concerns to the
    North Carolina General Assembly. They are the only people who can make a difference...I am not even sure though that even these people are aware of just what is going on in the court system...

  • Alexia.1 Aug 9, 2012

    dollibug, but I think you've witnessed innocent people refuse the plea deals and get railroaded here in Wake County, too. There's no good answer, except to ask prosecutors to be absolutely certain the person they're trying to send to jail did, indeed, commit the crime.

  • dollibug Aug 9, 2012

    INNOCENT PEOPLE get indicted, tried and convicted for a crime that they are not guilty of....or they are pressured, tricked, fooled, coerced, threaten or whatever you care to call it...into *taking a plea deal, knowing that they are not GUILTY OF ANY CRIME*....trust me...this happens and it happens a lot....so please do not be fooled....INNOCENT PEOPLE SHOULD NEVER EVER ACCEPT A PLEA DEAL FOR SOMETHING THAT THEY ARE NOT GUILTY OF....PERIOD...

  • boneymaroney13 Aug 9, 2012

    "And they were not sentenced in accordance with the law . . . " Really?! Guess we have a bunch of judges that don't know what they are doing.

  • boneymaroney13 Aug 9, 2012

    You should "RUN" from anything that has the ACLU's hands in it!!!

  • alexandertammy Aug 9, 2012

    runt over said: "They are in jail for a reason and there is no too long for them to be there."

    As an example, would you think it was unreasonable for you to go to prison for 5 years for a parking ticket? The article is saying that some have been wrongfully sentenced by as much as a DECADE. That's insane.

    Snakebite Survivor said: "I suspect most of them probably belong in jail for various crimes they never got caught for."

    That attitude is one of the primary causes of wrongful convictions.

  • TheBigLC Aug 9, 2012

    American Civil Liberties Union. Now that's an oxymoron if Ive ever heard one.

  • BubbaDukeforPresident Aug 9, 2012

    I'm of the opinion that we execute immediately and then we won't have to go through endless appeals and pressure from activists groups who want to coddle criminals and control everyone else's lives.

  • Banned4Life Aug 9, 2012

    Yes, it's not like we've never heard about a conviction being overturned, or an innocent in jail for 20 years being released because of new evidence or anything like that. Hey, they were convicted by 12 members of society who are perfect. After having been suspected and arrested by police who are perfect. And prosecuted by someone who is perfect. (We know all prosecutors are perfect since we've never heard of any prosecutorial misconduct here have we?) If these folks want to investigate something, why is it a concern of anyone's other than them and the convict? It's not like they're gonna say "oh, this one's innocent!" and the prison doors swing wide open.

  • linspace Aug 9, 2012

    I really have to scratch my head when I read comments like those above. Whether we have any sympathy for these convicted criminals or not (and I suspect most of them probably belong in jail for various crimes they never got caught for), we do live in a society of laws. And they were not sentenced in accordance with the law, and deserve fair and consistent treatment.
    Snakebite Survivor

    If we want tougher sentences.. change the laws.. but I agree with you.. we must sentence under current laws no matter how we feel! On another note.. are you really a snakebite survivor? seriously.. what type..

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