'Innocent' NC Men Sit in Prison on Gun Convictions
Justice Department won't release scores who didn't technically break law
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2012 9:31 AM CDT
Being innocent isn't enough to get you out of federal prison.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – The Justice Department refuses to release scores of North Carolina inmates that it acknowledges are innocent—lack of guilt that many of the inmates themselves aren't even aware of. A USA Today investigation identified more than 60 men who essentially became innocent overnight last year, when an appeals court ruled that the Justice Department had been incorrectly applying its law preventing felons from possessing guns in North Carolina, locking up people whose criminal records weren't serious enough to make possession illegal.

But the DOJ hasn't notified inmates of their newfound innocence, and when challenged has fought their release in court. In one April filing, it argued that an inmate "at most has become legally innocent," but wasn't entitled to release. "We can't be outcome driven," one Charlotte US attorney says. "We've got to make sure we follow the law." Public defenders are frustrated. "I have trouble figuring out how you rationalize this," one says. "These people are innocent. That has to matter at some point." Click for the entire lengthy, fascinating read, which explains why these prisoners face a big challenge just getting back into court to plead for their release.