Thursday, June 14, 2012

USA Today: DOJ Fumbles the Ball

Hat tip to Douglas Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy for directing us to an item in today's USA TODAY: it details an 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 technical explanation for the situation is as follows:
... 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. 
Amazingly, the Justice Department 1) has not attempted to identify the men 2) has made no effort to notify them 3 has, in a few cases, argued in court that they should not be released and 4) takes the position that it is not the job of the DOJ to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime - enter the Rev. Al Sharpton, stage right, waving "JUST - US" signs and chanting this and that!

Welcome to level of seven of bizarro world!

Some additional details:
Using state and federal court records, USA TODAY identified 23 other men who had been sent to federal prison for having a firearm despite criminal records too minor to make that a federal crime. Nine of them remain in prison, serving sentences of up to 10 years; others are still serving federal probation. The newspaper's review was limited to only a small fraction of cases from one of the three federal court districts in North Carolina. Federal public defenders have so far identified at least 39 others in additional court districts, and are certain to find more. And prosecutors have already agreed to drop dozens of cases in which prisoners' convictions were not yet final. 
See story here.

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