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RALEIGH – U.S. attorneys have still not taken all promised steps to provide relief to potentially hundreds of federal inmates in North Carolina whose convictions or sentences have since been found improper, the American Civil Liberties Union and its North Carolina and Massachusetts affiliates wrote in an Oct. 12 letter to federal officials. The letter comes more than a month after the U.S. Department of Justice vowed to take “concrete steps” to provide appropriate relief.

In August the ACLU asked the Justice Department to take immediate action to identify and assist all federal inmates in North Carolina who remain incarcerated for violating federal gun possession laws even though a 2011 decision by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Simmons has since found that it was not federal crime for them to have a gun.

In an Oct. 12 letter to H. Marshall Jarrett, Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the ACLU writes that the Justice Department continues to oppose post-conviction relief for the vast majority of improperly sentenced inmates and that U.S. attorneys in the Western District of North Carolina are “still prolonging the incarceration of innocent people” by failing to respond in a timely manner to motions for relief.

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From Sept. 3 through 6, the eyes of the world will be on Charlotte, North Carolina, as thousands of journalists, political activists and demonstrators descend on the city for the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Going to the DNC? Make sure you know your rights by referencing this one-page guide put together by the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

The U.S. Department of Justice has provided new guidelines to U.S. attorneys for how to handle the cases of federal inmates in North Carolina who remain incarcerated even though, under a 2011 court ruling, they are either innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted or eligible for a reduced sentence. The change in policy came on August 9, two days after the American Civil Liberties Union and its North Carolina affiliate submitted a letter to top Justice Department officials asking them to immediately take action to identify and assist potentially thousands of inmates whose sentences were affected under an August 2011 ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Simmons.

The Department’s partial guidance instructs U.S. attorneys to waive certain arguments that, in the year since Simmons was decided, it has been using to bar or delay relief for people who were unjustly convicted under pre-Simmons law. But the government has yet to agree to waive those arguments for people who were unjustly sentenced—sometimes to huge mandatory minimum or “career offender” sentences—under pre-Simmons law.

“This is an encouraging first step and promising news for those who were unjustly convicted. But much more has to be done to obtain justice for those who were wrongly incarcerated,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation. “This new policy does not help all of the thousands of inmates whose sentences could be affected by the Simmons decision. We continue to urge the Justice Department to take a proactive stance toward identifying and assisting all those who may be unjustly languishing in prison.”

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The American Civil Liberties Union and its North Carolina affiliate sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole yesterday urging the Department of Justice to take immediate action to identify and assist all federal inmates in North Carolina who remain incarcerated even though, under a 2011 court ruling, they are either innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted or eligible for a reduced sentence.

A USA Today investigation published in June found more than 60 men who are in prison for violating federal gun possession laws, even though a 2011 decision by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in United States v. Simmons has since found that it was not a federal crime for them to have a gun. A preliminary review conducted by the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, including conversations with attorneys representing clients eligible for relief under Simmons in each of North Carolina’s three federal judicial districts, found that more than 3,000 federal prisoners in the state are potentially innocent or entitled to a reduced sentence under Simmons.

In a letter signed by Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation; Laura Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office; and Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel in the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, the ACLU explains that the precise number of inmates whose convictions or sentences are implicated by Simmons remains unknown. “Worse yet,” the letter reads, “when the government has been informed of inmates whose convictions or sentences are impacted by Simmons, its stance has been affirmatively hostile to relief.”

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