Free Man Matthew Charles Fights to Remain Out of Prison; Attorneys Cite Holloway Case

Photo Credit: Julieta Martinelli/WPLN

After serving two decades in federal prison, Matthew Charles walked out a free man. So he thought! After spending a year and a half rebuilding his life, Mr. Charles received an unexpected order from the higher courts. The courts informed Mr. Charles that he must go back to prison, according to Nashville Public Radio. This turn of events seems hard to believe.  Especially in light of the fact that since his release, Mr. Charles has not committed any new crimes. So why is he facing the possibility of returning to prison?

According to Mr. John Hairston, a close friend of Mr. Charles, “The Department of Justice has decided to circumvent the US Sentencing Commission over a technicality regarding Federal sentencing guidelines. There is a possibility Mr. Charles may not be the only one. According to the prosecutor, in this case, career offenders were not eligible to receive a reduction in their sentence. He continued, “This is causing great injustices for many federal prisoners and the district courts are either ignoring this or are being forced to return certain inmates back to prison for no reason.”

Appalled at the thought of his friend going back to prison, John Hairston, the owner of and, wrote an article about Mr. Charles’ case. He sent the story out to Nashville Public Radio, Family Against Mandatory Minimums and other media outlets. Eventually, Nashville Public Radio picked up the story. Spreading the word is the most effective way to detail the injustices people are facing.

Matthew Charles’ Case

When Matthew Charles was sentenced in 1996, the crack-to-cocaine ratio was still 100 to 1, meaning that selling one gram of crack carried the same punishment as 100 grams of cocaine. He was released after those guidelines were revised.

In 1996, Charles’ conviction included distribution of crack cocaine and possession of a gun. Due to his prior criminal history, Mr. Charles is what the courts call a “career offender.”

Charles received a sentence of 35 years. At the time, he was heartbroken and didn’t understand it. He thought ten years was too short, and receiving 20 years may have been justifiable.  However, 35 years was way too long.

Before President Obama’s term in office was over, Mr. Charles received a reduction of his sentence. Under the Obama administration, the minimum sentencing guidelines for dealing crack were lowered by two points. Mr. Charles benefited from Drug Minus Two, known as Amendment 782. This amendment reduces the number of years that remain on a drug offender’s sentence.

Furthermore, The United States Sentencing voted unanimously to reduce federal drug guidelines in order to help control federal costs and the prison population, ensure fair and just sentences, and protect public safety. Although the United States Sentencing Commission acknowledges the disparity of the ratio of crack inmates versus cocaine; Congress refuses to change the laws.

Judge Postpones Ruling Due to Public Defender’s Motion

Michael Holley, Charles’ federal public defender, filed a motion for relief citing the Holloway case. The motion filed in December received a 16-page response from the government. According to WPLN, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cecil VanDevender asserts that “Charles is not only ineligible for the sentence reduction” but also goes on to ask the court to cancel the sentencing hearing completely, adding that there’s no reason for Charles to be present for reinstatement of his original sentence.”

The government argues that Charles was a career criminal. In fact, they state the lenient guidelines did not apply to him. The court of appeals agreed, Charles should return to prison and finish his sentence.

Despite that, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger filed an order making a rare request. She asked the U.S. Attorney’s office, who is prosecuting the case to review it, according to Nashville Public Radio.

Per WPLN, “Given the unique procedural posture of this case and the Defendant’s [Charles] undisputed rehabilitation, the court respectfully requests that the newly-appointed United States Attorney, Donald Q. Cochran, personally review this case in the context of the Holloway case,” Judge Traguer stated.

The Holloway Case gained national recognition when Judge John Gleeson persuaded Loretta E. Lynch the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  The former attorney general for the Obama Administration agreed to vacate two of the three convictions against Francois Holloway, who had been prosecuted on carjacking and other charges. In this case, both prosecutor and Judge agreed to reduce Holloway’s sentence. The case is postponed until further notice.


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