The American Civil Liberties Union accused the Justice Department of keeping innocent people incarcerated, citing an investigation the organization undertook of the three U.S. Attorney offices in North Carolina.
Under United States v. Simmons, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decided on Aug. 17, 2011 that many federal sentences and convictions in North Carolina were invalid and that certain individuals were imprisoned based on wrongful convictions or sentences.
USA Today published an investigation in June 2012 that found 23 inmates still imprisoned after the ruling in Simmons invalidated all or part of their convictions or sentences.
The ACLU sent another letter to the DOJ on Oct. 12, 2012 to follow-up on what is being done for these inmates. The DOJ wrote a letter dated Sept. 14, 2012 stating that it has taken “concrete steps” to facilitate collateral relief for “persons whose convictions or sentences entitle them to relief under Simmons.” The ACLU charged that the September letter did not specify the DOJ’s approach. This led the ACLU to do its own investigation of the three United States Attorney’s offices in North Carolina. As a result of this investigation the ACLU lists two main problems: prolonging the incarceration of innocent people and the DOJ and the continued opposition of the DOJ to post-conviction relief for these inmates.
“All three U.S. attorneys’ offices in North Carolina are working closely with the federal defenders and the courts to establish procedures for the efficient resolution of claims in Simmons cases,” Allison Price, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said on Thursday in a USA Today follow-up story.
“Each office is devoting substantial resources every day to getting Simmons claims before the courts so that they can be addressed. Hundreds of inmates with potential Simmons claims have been identified and notified, and we are working very hard to ensure that these matters are resolved both quickly and in accordance with established law.”
In the meantime, some improperly sentenced inmates continue to serve time in North Carolina.