Recently, a Tennessee native named Matthew Charles was sent back to prison after being released in 2016. He was not sent back because he had committed another crime — he was returned to prison because of an error made by the court.
Charles was convicted in the ‘90s of selling crack cocaine, after being arrested when he attempted to sell the drug to a police informant. He was also convicted of possessing an illegal firearm. Charles was originally sentenced to 35 years but released after serving only 20 after a federal judge shortened his sentence in line with government policy to reduce sentences for cocaine-related offenses.
Unfortunately, Charles had been labeled as a “career criminal” under federal law and thus was not eligible for the sentence reduction – the judge had made an error. The Justice Department appealed the decision, seeking to reinstate the initial 35-year sentence and now Charles is being sent back to prison to serve the rest of his term.
Charles was guilty of the crime, but when you look deeper into the issue, it is difficult to conclude that he deserves to go back to prison. On the back of the recent string of pardons issued by the President, many are calling for Trump to make Charles his next beneficiary.
Mr. Charles Deserves To Be Free
Matthew Charles is not a famous man. He isn’t an actor or millionaire businessman. He is a person who made horrible decisions in his youth and was rightly imprisoned for it. However, he is a prime example of a person who takes responsibility for his mistakes and works to transform himself into a better American.
When you look at Charles’ life behind bars, you see a man who has rehabilitated himself. While serving out his sentence, he took college classes, eventually becoming a law clerk. He taught a GED program to other inmates and held a weekly bible study. He was never given an infraction for bad behavior. After his release, he obtained a steady job and started dating his current girlfriend. He also volunteers at a food pantry every weekend. Now, through no fault of his own, everything that Charles has been working to build is being snatched away.
In an interview with NPR, Charles expressed doubts as to whether or not his health could endure another fifteen years in prison. However, he remains optimistic. “I believe that God is still in charge of the situation,” he said. “He hasn’t revealed to me what He’s doing yet, but my faith remains the same.”
The President’s Options: Commutation or Pardon
When it comes to giving clemency, President Trump has two different options: commutation or pardon. A commutation of Charles’ sentence would leave the conviction on his record, but eliminate the rest of his sentence.
A pardon does not remove the conviction, but it allows the recipient to possess once again the rights he had previously forfeited after being convicted, along with waiving the punishment. Moreover, a pardon appears on the person’s criminal record along with the conviction. This type of clemency is typically used when the convict received an excessive sentence, or when they are innocent of the crime.
Shon Hopwood, Charles’ attorney, expressed his belief that Charles deserves mercy:
“Matthew Charles has proven that he is deserving of a second chance. He was out for two years and did everything we’d want from someone coming out of a long prison sentence, including that he volunteered every weekend.”
Hopwood stated that he is attempting to appeal to President Trump, telling CBN News that, “We will be filing a clemency petition on his behalf, and I hope that President Trump will give him a second chance by commuting Matthew’s sentence to time served.”
There are plenty of individuals who deserve lengthy prison sentences, especially those who commit violent crimes. However, many are serving excessively long sentences; Matthew Charles is one of many who received excessive sentences for nonviolent offenses. In his case, as with many, the punishment did not fit the crime. Today, he is far from being a danger to his fellow citizens — indeed, it appears he has now become a contributor to society.
During his stay in prison, Charles completely turned his life around and is now making a positive impact on his community. The question is: should a man who has repented of his past mistakes still be forced to complete an unjustifiably long sentence because of a technical error?
Editor – The author of this article, Jeff Charles, is not related to Matthew Charles.