North Carolina is Proud of Having 'Innocent' Prisoners
11 months ago
Justice department says it's not their job to tell prisoners they are innocent
USA Today has published an investigation of the North Carolina prison system and uncovered at least 60 instances of technically innocent men being locked up for crimes they really didn't commit.
How can one be "technically innocent?" 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.
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"We can't be outcome driven," says Charlotte-based U.S. Anne Tompkin to USA Today. "We've got to make sure we follow the law, and people should want us to do that." She insists that her office is "looking diligently for ways, within the confines of the law, to recommend relief for defendants who are legally innocent."
USA Today also reports that they've 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.
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."