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Commentary, Justice Denied for McCollum and Brown
Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

It has now been 222 days since  since Governor Pat McCrory received a formal request for a pardon from Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years in prison for a rape and murder they did not commit.

Brown and McCollum, both struggling to make ends meet, need the pardon so they can receive the financial compensation from the state for their wrongful incarceration for more than three decades.

McCrory applauded the exoneration of the two men last September and said he was ready to receive their application for a pardon. It was filed September 11th of last year, 222 days ago.

No word from McCrory about why he continues to deny the two men the justice they deserve but he has been busy with things he apparently thinks are more important.

Today he attended the North Carolina Fit Family Press Conference.

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Commentary, Justice Denied for McCollum and Brown
Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Henry McCollum listening to evidence of his innocence. Photo by Jenny Warburg / Courtesy of North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

It has now been 221 days since Governor Pat McCrory received a formal request for a pardon from Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, two Robeson County men who both spent 31 years in prison for a rape and murder they did not commit.

McCollum and Brown, both mentally disabled, were freed September 4 of last year after the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission found DNA evidence that proved another man had committed the crimes.

Governor Pat McCrory issued a press release the same day, saying he was “heartened to see the convictions of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown vacated by the court” and that he would begin reviewing their applications for pardons of innocence as soon as they were received.

McCrory’s office received the applications 221 days ago and nothing has happened. The News & Observer reported two months ago that McCollum and Brown were unable to pay their bills and were relying on donations from friends and supporters to survive. At one point their water was turned off because they couldn’t afford to pay for it.

They are entitled under state law to $50,000 for every year they were wrongly incarcerated up to a maximum of $750,000 but they can’t get it until they receive a formal pardon of innocence from McCrory, who has yet to grant it or say anything publicly about the case.

The state of North Carolina robbed McCollum and Brown of 31 years of their lives. Now the governor is denying them justice again, preventing them from receiving the restitution to which they are entitled.

It is simply a disgrace.

NC Policy Watch plans to remind Gov. McCrory of this gross miscarriage of justice every day until he does the right thing and grants the pardon the two men deserved 221 days ago.

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Commentary

Supreme courtOn Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina’s highest court must re-examine a sex offender’s case to determine whether a law requiring him to wear a GPS tracking bracelet for life is constitutional.

Torrey Dale Grady was convicted of a second-degree sex offense in 1997 and then of taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006. As a repeat offender, Grady was sentenced to three years in jail. Upon his release in 2013, he was ordered to permanently wear a GPS tracker. The monitoring device allows state officials to receive information about all of Grady’s movements. In order to maintain the tracking device, state officials are permitted to enter Grady’s home unannounced. According to Grady, he must also be plugged into a wall outlet for four to six hours daily in order to keep the bracelet charged.

Grady is one of 600 sex offenders in North Carolina that currently wears such a monitoring device.

Grady immediately appealed the order requiring him to permanently wear the GPS device claiming that it violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Grady’s claims were rejected by North Carolina courts but the Supreme Court found that this tracking could be unconstitutional.

In its opinion, the Court cited its recent decision in United States v. Jones which held that:

“the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search.’

In light of [this] decision[], it follows that a State also conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.”

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Commentary

MarijuanaA bill to legalize medical marijuana, introduced by Representative Kelly Alexander, was considered by the House Judiciary I Committee today. Despite heart-wrenching testimony from veterans and others with serious medical conditions, the committee took less than thirty seconds to vote to give the bill an unfavorable report.

If passed, the bill would have allowed North Carolinians to obtain prescriptions and legally buy cannabis from licensed distributors. The distributors in turn would have purchased the plant from licensed growers, who would have been regulated by the Department of Agriculture. The bill would have taxed each sale of marijuana at 5% and created a revenue for the state.

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Commentary
Women in criminal justice

Image: American Civil Liberties Union

On Tuesday, a bill was proposed in the Senate that would make it a criminal offense for a woman in North Carolina to use drugs while pregnant. The bill, sponsored by Senator Brent Jackson and Senator Louis Pate, would permit a woman to be charged with assault if she uses an illegal narcotic while pregnant and her child is born addicted to or harmed by the drug.

The problems with this bill are numerous.

First, it is obvious that pregnant women who suffer from a drug dependency are less likely to seek prenatal care when they are threatened with prosecution. Studies have shown that prenatal care substantially improves birth outcomes even for pregnant women who continue to use drugs during their pregnancies.

Second, drug dependency is a recognized medical condition that must be treated with proper medical care. Under the threat of prosecution, pregnant women will be less likely to be forthcoming with their doctors about their drug use which will prevent them from getting the help they need and which could negatively affect both the mother and child.

Third, there is evidence that criminalizing drug use during pregnancy would disproportionately affect minority and low income women. Poor women and women of color are more likely to live in areas where they don’t have access to treatment facilities or proper medical help and therefore more likely to be unable to get the help they need during pregnancy.

The only defense to prosecution provided by the bill is for a woman to enroll in an addiction recovery program prior to the birth of the child, remain in the program after delivery and successfully complete the program. In reality, this is often not a viable option for a pregnant woman.  Many treatment programs won’t accept pregnant women or aren’t set-up to adequately meet their needs. Also, particularly in rural areas, there often aren’t treatment centers close by. If legislature really wants to help pregnant woman overcome drug addictions, they should introduce a bill that would provide easy access to helpful and effective drug treatment centers.

Currently, it appears that Tennessee is the only state to have such a law on the books. (A bill was introduced in Oklahoma this month). A week after the Tennessee law went into effect, a woman was arrested for smoking meth. She is now in county jail and could be incarcerated for up to year. Criminalizing drug use during pregnancy has done nothing to help her overcome her addiction or protect the health of her baby. Instead, the state has just added one more person to criminal justice system.

If the ultimate goal is promote healthy pregnancies and healthy babies, this bill is not the answer.