NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Calls for President Trump to commute the sentence of a man who was recently sent back to prison after he was released in 2016 have crossed the political spectrum and call attention to “mandatory minimum” prison sentences.
Matthew Charles had served 21 years of a 35-year sentence for selling crack to a police informant in the 1990’s before he was released under reduced sentences of “mandatory minimum” sentences by the Obama Administration. An appeals court recently ruled that he was released in error.
By many accounts from people who know him now, Charles has been an upstanding citizen since his release, but he says that was not the case when he started his sentence. He was classified as a “career offender” because he had served a previous sentence in a state prison.Charles also had a serious criminal rap sheet that included attempted murder.
However, during his sentence, Charles found religion, became a law clerk and GED instructor, teaching fellow inmates how to read. Charles also had zero disciplinary infractions during the 21 years he was in prison. Since his release, he started a job, a new relationship with a woman, attends church regularly, and served as a volunteer every Saturday.
That did not stop the U.S. Attorney’s office from pursuing an appeal to send Charles back to prison to finish his sentence. Federal prosecutors have argued that Charles’ case is not unique, and that there are thousands of other federal prisoners in the same boat as him.
Calls for his release have crossed political lines, from liberal host Joy Reid on MSNBC to the conservative website TheFederalist.com pushing for his release. Kim Kardashian also tweeted about him recently.
Charles’s sentence was a result of “mandatory minimum” sentences imposed for certain crimes, especially drug crimes as a part of the “War on Drugs”. Charles told Nashville public radio in April that he definitely deserved to be sent to prison, but thought that he would be sentenced to 20 years.
However, the “mandatory minimum” sentence for possession of one gram of crack cocaine was the same as for 100 grams of cocaine, or approximately a quarter of a pound.
Legal counsel for Koch Industries, Mark Holden, who is also an advocate for criminal justice reform says that Charles’ case is one of many examples of why “mandatory minimum” sentences are a big problem in the United States.
There is an online petition to get signatures to convince Trump to commute Charles’ sentence on Change.org.