The ACLU has written a strong letter to James Cole, the second in command at the Department of Justice (DOJ), demanding he do more to correct a grave injustice: the continued imprisonment of people convicted of a crime they did not commit. The ACLU points out that DOJ lawyers know many are “legally innocent” but they have done little to find and notify them and have set roadblocks up to stop them from gaining their freedom.
As this article explains:
The legal issue is complicated, and mostly confined to one state: Federal law bans people from possessing 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, state law sets the maximum punishment for a crime based in part on the criminal record of whoever committed it, meaning some people committing such crimes as possessing cocaine face sentences of more than a year, while those with shorter records face only a few months.The ACLU estimates there are 3,000 people in federal prison who are either legally innocent or whose sentences were improperly increased by judges who got the law wrong.
For years, federal courts there said that didn't 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.
But last year, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said judges had been getting the law wrong. Only people who could have faced more than a year in prison for their crimes qualify as felons. Its decision meant tens of thousands of low-level state offenders should not have been prohibited from having guns.
A looming one year deadline for relief (a deadline the DOJ can choose to ignore) makes this request and the DOJ’s swift action doubly important.
We applaud the ACLU for telling the DOJ to do the right thing!
Vice President and General Counsel