The innocent are incarcerated…and apparently that’s fine
Many gun rights advocates will open their discussion about gun rights by pointing out that they don’t believe convicted felons should have guns, a position I have some issues with. Most will also say that those who are found to have guns in their possession should go to jail. The question is, what about those who are imprisoned for being felons with guns but weren’t really felons?
USA Today had the story yesterday.
A USA TODAY investigation, based on court records and interviews with government officials and attorneys, found more than 60 men who went to prison for violating federal gun possession laws, even though courts have since determined that it was not a federal crime for them to have a gun.
Many of them don’t even know they’re innocent.
The legal issues underlying their situation are complicated, and are unique to North Carolina. But the bottom line is that each of them went to prison for breaking a law that makes it a federal crime for convicted felons to possess a gun. The problem is that none of them had criminal records serious enough to make them felons under federal law.
Still, the Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they should not be released.
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.
“We can’t be outcome driven,” said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte. “We’ve got to make sure we follow the law, and people should want us to do that.” She said her office is “looking diligently for ways, within the confines of the law, to recommend relief for defendants who are legally innocent.”
Really? They can’t be “outcome driven” when it comes to freeing innocent people who have been imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit? Are you kidding me?
Our system, called the “justice” system is supposed to lock up the guilty. However, we are all lead to believe that the innocent will be set free. The federal government knows they’re innocent. Where is the hard part here? Oh yeah, because it’s not about guilt or innocence, is it?
When Tompkins comments, “We’ve got to make sure we follow the law, and people should want us to do that”, she is missing on important key. We want them to follow the law when it comes to convicting someone (something some of Ms Tompkins’ colleagues are unable to do). When it’s learned that someone is innocent, then many of us what those innocent men free. Immediately.
The kicker to this whole thing isn’t that they’re making these innocent men dance through hoops. No. As annoying and ridiculous as that is, the real problem is that they won’t even tell these people that the government has learned that they’re innocent.
These 60 men may well have had court appointed attorneys. While some of these lawyers are young and hungry for justice, many others are overworked and stressed out and just don’t give a damn. After a conviction, the idea of appeal may well have been discouraged by their attorneys. (North Carolina’s screwy system of determining who gets what kind of sentence would amplify that so that even paid attorneys may not feel their clients could win an appeal)
So you have 60 men who are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, and no one will tell them that if they go through the appeal process, they will win because the government now concedes that they didn’t break the law. The government’s arguement is that they’re not obligated to do that. I’m not obligated to do a lot of stuff, but I do it because it’s right. One would think that those who claim to stand for “justice” would do the same.
Just don’t hold your breath.