National campaign underway to free Nashville man sent back to federal prison after being released in 2016

More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the release of Matthew Charles from federal prison, reports WPLN, and the Nashville man’s case is otherwise getting considerable national attention – including a New York Times story suggesting he could be a candidate for clemency granted by President Donald Trump.

Charles was sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling cocaine in 1996, then freed in 2016 under a sentence-reduction program launched by former President Barack Obama – only to be sent back behind bars last week after courts ruled he technically didn’t qualify — though, by all accounts, he has led an exemplary life both while serving time and since his 2016 release.

From WPLN:

(The campaign to free Charles) has largely been supported by conservative figures and news outlets, like The Washington Review, which published an op-ed supporting clemency for Charles, and Fox News.

“I’ve never seen one [case] take off as quickly as quickly as this one did and be embraced by people on the right and left,” says Kevin Ring, president of the advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

“People who have had no interest in criminal justice issues, who see themselves as tough on crime, have still embraced Matthew Charles as a cause worth fighting for.”

Ring been publicly speaking out in support of Charles for months and was the first in a string of guests to appear on Fox News’ Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, who has dedicated multiple segments to Charles’ story. Other Fox commentators, including Tomi Lahren, have also publicly supported Charles.

Ring says Trump’s most recent —and potential — pardon announcements, which include public figures and celebrities, have actually strengthened public support for Charles.

“[Everyday people] can’t identify with Martha Stewart, but they can with Matthew Charles. I’ve never seen such outpouring,” says Ring. “This has transcended politics.”

While conservative figures circulated the story early, the support across the aisle is also getting louder. Last week, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff called out the president’s penchant for celebrity pardons on Twitter, adding that that power should be reserved “to right injustices,” like that of Matthew Charles.

From the New York Times article:

His lawyers plan to ask the Justice Department to commute the rest of his sentence, and he appears to fall within its guidelines for clemency. But with nearly 9,000 petitioners for a commutation ahead of him, it could take years for federal law enforcement officials to decide his fate. Cases like Mr. Charles’s make some criminal justice reform advocates say they would welcome a reform-minded president willing to bypass the system and more boldly wield the constitutional power to grant pardons.

Now they have one in President Trump, who has pardoned five people in his first 17 months in office and bypassed the Justice Department’s recommendation system to do so. This week, he pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative commentator who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance law. Mr. D’Souza responded on Twitter by claiming victory over what he viewed as a political prosecution and by mocking Preet Bharara, the former United States attorney in Manhattan whose office prosecuted the case.

… Both Democrats and Republicans have also called on Mr. Trump to commute Mr. Charles’s sentence, and an editorial in the conservative National Review called for a full pardon.

But doing so would have implications for the already frayed relationship between Mr. Trump and his Justice Department. Federal prosecutors have declined to recharge Mr. Charles with lesser offenses, according to Mr. Sharp, which could have paved the way for a shorter sentence overall and little to no prison time.

Granting such a request would be difficult for federal prosecutors, Mr. Sharp said, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has instructed them to ask for the most severe penalties allowed by law, including mandatory minimum sentences.

… Though federal prosecutors declined to recharge Mr. Charles, they do believe he is a good candidate for a commuted sentence.

“As the government has previously noted, Charles’s evident rehabilitation is commendable, and may well provide a compelling basis for executive clemency,” Donald Q. Cochran, the United States attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, wrote in a briefing.

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