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ACLU Asks Justice Department to Help North Carolinians Incarcerated While Innocent

ACLU Asks Justice Department to Help North Carolinians Incarcerated While Innocent

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.”

The ACLU letter outlines a series of actions the Justice Department can take to identify and assist all federal inmates who are potentially affected by the Simmons decision before the one-year anniversary of the court ruling on August 17, 2012.

Read the entire letter here.