North Carolina leaders say the state correction secretary overstepped his authority when he shortened the sentences of inmates convicted before 1981. The secretary found that authority in the state statute book. A chance at freedom for up to 60 inmates is tangled in what state leaders think their predecessors meant to do and what state law actually says, reports the Raleigh News & Observer.
In a 1981 overhaul of sentencing laws, legislators said the secretary of correction should control credits to inmates imprisoned before that year. From 1974 to 1978, state law defined a life sentence as 80 years. That limit, combined with the credits, means that at least 27, and possibly as many as 60, murderers, rapists, burglars, and arsonists could be eligible for freedom. Last week, Gov. Beverly Perdue indicated that she would wait for more guidance from courts, saying that the correction department had overstepped its authority when handing out credits.