This post is dedicated to Marvin Wilson, a severely mentally disabled man who has been executed in Texas. RIP.
Dozens of men have apparently been locked up for something that is not a crime.
Now, I’m not a lawyer. But it seems pretty simple to me that if something is not illegal, then people should not be locked up for it. That’s kidnapping! That is, in fact, a felony itself!
The situation is fairly complicated. It is a federal crime for a convicted felon to have a gun, where “felon” is defined as “a person who has committed a crime that would put them in prison for a year or more.”* In North Carolina, however, there’s a policy called “structured sentencing,” in which the maximum penalty for a crime changes depending on the criminal record of the people involved. A dealer who has a short criminal record may only face a few months in jail, while one who has a comparatively longer record may be in jail for years.
You see the problem. For years, federal courts have ruled that if any person who committed that crime could have been in jail for years, it was a felony. So the dealer who faced a few months in jail is considered a felon, and if he has guns he’ll go to federal prison. However, last year, the U. S. Court of Appeals said that it didn’t matter: the only relevant consideration is the maximum sentence that the imprisoned person could have gotten, not the maximum sentence that any person who committed the crime could have gotten. And then all the people who were locked up were freed, because that’s illegal!
…Only not, because God forbid that the American prison system stop fucking locking people up.
In fact, they didn’t even tell them that they were locked up for a crime that didn’t technically exist. The Justice Department has argued that they should be in prison, because they’re only legally innocent. Uh, guys, again, not a lawyer, but isn’t that the important bit? If someone commits a crime and (say) the police violated their civil rights in investigating the case, they’re legally but not factually innocent, and you are not allowed to put them in prison because they actually committed the crime. I am pretty sure that “the crime is actually illegal” is a pretty basic requirement to punish people for a crime. That’s what separates a justice system from just punishing people you don’t like.
Of course, like any nonsensical justice system decision, this decision has a disproportionate effect on men, people of color, poor people, and the mentally ill and disabled, all of whom are disproportionately likely to be imprisoned. Gah. Sometimes I just want to quit the world.
*Does this seem like a weird definition to anyone else? Whether you can own a gun depends on whether you live in a state with comparatively lenient or strict sentencing; people who committed the same crimes might be able to own guns in one state and not in another.