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North Carolina: not our job to tell prisoners they are innocent

Nice to know that my state thinks it’s not the role of government to inform numerous prisoners of  the fact in that they are actually innocent because of errors made by the state, or technicalities of law. (The Loop 21):

Take the case of Terrell McCullum.

McCullum carried a shotgun and rifle outside of his ex-girlfriend’s home. He had a criminal record, but for things like fighting and larceny, no real serious, violent crimes involving weapons. Nonetheless, he was entered into the system as a felon. So when the police caught him carrying the unloaded weapons after a domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend who he had met with the collect his things, officer promptly locked him up for possession and he was later charged with violating the state’s felon gun possession laws.

Technically, McCullum shouldn’t be in prison, but he is and the state doesn’t feel like they should have to tell him or release him.

USA Today did the investigation of this disaster. The paper 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.

Some of the prisoners USA TODAY contacted — and their lawyers — were stunned to find out that they were imprisoned for something that turned out not to be a federal crime. And their lawyers said they were troubled by the idea that innocence alone might not get them out.

“If someone is innocent, I would think that would change the government’s reaction, and it’s sad that it hasn’t,” said Debra Graves, an assistant federal public defender in Raleigh. “I have trouble figuring out how you rationalize this. These are innocent people. That has to matter at some point.”

This is madness:

The state also feels that it is not their responsibility to notify prisoners that they may be innocent or may stand to file an appeal. Instead, they feel that that is the job of public defenders to seek out those cases and take them to court.

“We’re doing it with our hands tied,” said Eric Placke, a federal public defender in Greensboro. “I appreciate the compelling considerations they have to deal with. But I do think in cases of actual innocence that it would be nice, to say the least, if they would be a little more proactive.”

The reality is that there is little public support for men in this circumstance because they have a rap sheet to begin with (many with drug convictions), so we’re talking the tip of the iceberg in terms of what a state thinks it can get away with…without blowback.


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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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