USA Today says more than 60 men are serving prison time in North Carolina 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 legal issues underlying their situation are complicated and unique to North Carolina. In each case, the men 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.
Still, the Justice Department has not attempted to identify the men, has made no effort to notify them, and, in a few cases in which the men have come forward on their own, has argued in court that they should not be released. Justice Department officials said it is not their job to notify prisoners that they might be incarcerated for something that they now concede is not a crime. And although they have agreed in court filings that the men are innocent, they said they must still comply with federal laws that put strict limits on when and how people can challenge their convictions in court.