Once you’ve been convicted of a state or federal felony, federal law prohibits you from possessing a gun. If you’re caught with a firearm and have a felony conviction, you can be sent to prison for illegally possessing the weapon.
Approximately 3,000 individuals in North Carolina are in prison, serving sentences for felony possession of a firearm despite being legally innocent of the crime, according the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In total, it’s believed that over 10,000 individuals throughout North Carolina were wrongly prohibited from possessing a firearm because of their criminal history.
The problem came with the federal definition of a felon – it included anyone who was convicted of a crime that could be punished by at least a year in prison. In North Carolina, a person’s past criminal history is taken into account during sentencing. Even minor felonies or misdemeanors could be punished by a year or more in prison if the individual has a prior criminal record.
Until recently, the government had argued that these people should remain in prison, despite their innocence, and finish their sentences on firearms charges. The U.S. Department of Justice says it is now working with North Carolina inmates wrongly imprisoned to get them out of jail as soon as possible.
Elizabethtown resident, 26-year-old Terrell McCullum is the most recent beneficiary of this change in interpretation of federal gun possession laws. He had already served out his sentence for felony possession of a firearm but was still on probation for the firearms charge when U.S. District Judge James Fox overturned his conviction.
Source: Charlotte Observer, “N.C. man’s firearms conviction overturned,” August 19, 2012