Six months after a newspaper investigation revealed hundreds of federal prisoners in North Carolina were technically innocent of firearms violations, the U.S. Department of Justice has identified at least 175 others who could be released because they’ve been held improperly.
The report released by the Justice Department shows that dozens of men should never have been imprisoned because they did not commit a federal crime. Others were sentenced for much longer than the federal statutes of their crimes allows, the report shows. The findings were completed in September but were never made public.
Back in June, when the initial USA Today report was released, the Justice Department told reporters that it had identified at least 60 innocent men who were still behind bars.
Although appeals courts had ruled many of the prisoners were exempt from federal convictions, the Justice Department made no effort to make contact to inform them of their innocence. In some cases, lawyers asked federal judges to keep prisoners locked up anyway. Many of those wrongly held were simply unaware they were not guilty.
Since the initial report came out in June, federal judges have ordered the government to release at least 32 prisoners and have taken a dozen more off of post-prison supervision.
The number of prisoners who will likely be freed is higher than 175 because the Justice Department’s report examined just the smallest of three federal districts in North Carolina, a state where this problem is unique.
The problem comes from prosecutions in the state for firearms possession and use which were serious enough to warrant federal convictions or extended prison sentences.
All of the sentences were handed out under a law that prohibits felons for possessing or using firearms — except none of the men had records serious enough to classify them as felons.
Ripley Rand, a U.S. attorney in Greensboro, N.C. whose office conducted the review, said that as many as a third of the gun convictions they’ve achieved in recent years could be overturned.
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