A Nashville man facing another decade in prison, a year and a half after his release, will not receive leniency from the federal prosecutor’s office.
This morning, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, Donald Cochran, officially declined to modify the government's position on Matthew Charles' resentencing.
Charles had served more than two decades behind bars on a 35-year term for distributing crack cocaine. He was released in 2016 after a district judge reduced his sentence based on new guidelines for crack offenders, citing Charles’ rehabilitation and his spotless discipline record in prison.
But the government appealed his release on grounds that Charles was considered a “career offender,” due to a lengthy criminal record from his youth. The Court of Appeals agreed he should go back to prison, sending the case to District Judge Aleta Trauger’s courtroom for re-sentencing.
In a rare move, the district judge intervened on Dec. 29, just days before she was expected to re-sentence Charles to the full term. Referring to Charles' "undisputed rehabilitation”, she asked the U.S. Attorney's office to consider dropping the case. She cited a case in New York in which a federal prosecutor agreed to drop charges at the request of a judge so that the defendant’s sentence could be reduced.
The government’s filing comes on the last day of a deadline set by Trauger in late December.
In Cochran’s response Wednesday morning, he writes that he doesn’t consider the case to be “unjust or unique” enough to warrant that relief: There are almost 5,000 other prisoners with similar cases, who, like Charles, might be rehabilitated and would qualify for sentence reductions if they were not considered “career offenders.”
“Indeed, the only thing that appears to distinguish Mr. Charles from others who were found to be career offenders years ago and who now show evidence of rehabilitation is that the vast majority of these individuals are still incarcerated while Mr. Charles was released from prison and, thus, had the opportunity to interact with society outside of prison,” writes Cochran.
In the two years since his release, Charles has built a strong network of supporters, including his employers, church congregation and colleagues at the food pantry where he’s volunteered every Saturday since he was set free. They each submitted video and written testimonials in support of Charles’ freedom.
On Wednesday afternoon, Trauger issued an order granting defense council until Monday to file a request for a sentencing hearing. Otherwise, the court “will simply resentence this defendant to the original sentence, as it must, and give the defendant 14 days to self-surrender.”