Rabiah Burks, 202-822-6700
SENTENCING REFORM IN NORTH CAROLINA PUSHED BY
ADVOCATES, TRUMP STATE OF THE UNION GUEST MATTHEW CHARLES
RALEIGH, NC – Criminal justice reform advocates and Matthew Charles, President Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union guest, held a press conference at the North Carolina State Capitol today to urge the passage of the North Carolina First Step Act (SB 404).
“It didn’t take two decades in prison for me to straighten my life out, but that’s how inflexible sentencing laws work,” Charles said. “It’s wrong not to hold people accountable, but it’s also wrong to give people more prison time than they deserve. North Carolina’s mandatory minimum drug sentences are excessive and greatly in need of reform.”
Matthew Charles served 21 years in federal prison for a drug offense and was released in January 2019 due to retroactive sentencing reforms included in the First Step Act, a bipartisan bill signed into law by President Trump on December 21, 2018. That law included an expansion of a federal sentencing provision known as the “safety valve,” which lets courts avoid imposing mandatory minimum drug sentences if certain criteria are met. The North Carolina First Step Act would create a safety valve to let courts give a sentence other than the mandatory minimum if the minimum sentence is unjust and unnecessary to protect the public.
Charles was joined by Tammy Stanley, a Greensboro resident whose son Graham Stanley is serving 15 years in state prison for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense committed while he was addicted to cocaine.
“The judge didn’t get to treat my son Graham like an individual at sentencing,” said Stanley. “It was really shocking to realize that the court could not consider his lack of a criminal record, his drug addiction, or his minimal role in the crime. I’m not against punishment, but it’s not right to give everyone the same punishment if they haven’t earned it. We’re not the only family going through this, and it’s not too much to ask that North Carolina families get a fair shake when we end up in the courtroom.”
“North Carolina’s mandatory drug sentences are lengthy, costly, and wasteful,” said Molly Gill, FAMM Vice President of Policy. “Too many North Carolina families have loved ones in prison for far too long for low-level or addiction-driven drug crimes. That’s not making us safer. The North Carolina First Step Act isn’t a radical solution. It’s a common sense solution.”
“North Carolina’s First Step Act is a smart on crime and soft on taxpayers approach to reducing the Tar Heel States’ over-incarceration problem, said Chris McCoy AFP-NC State Director. “For far too long, family members and their incarcerated loved ones have suffered under lengthy sentences which hinder prosperous reentry and create barriers to opportunity. This compassionate and common sense policy is just what it purports to be, a good first step in creating better criminal justice policy.”
“Because every crime is unique, we believe judges should have the discretion to impose a sentence that reflects the unique facts and circumstances of each case,” said David Safavian, American Conservative Union Foundation General Counsel. “A safety value provides a mechanism for relief when a mandatory minimum statute results in a ridiculous sentence. This backstop is a critical component to ensuring that true justice is done. If conservatives and liberals in Washington can agree about criminal justice reform and the federal safety valve, I don’t see why North Carolina’s political leaders can’t do the same here in Raleigh.”
The North Carolina First Step Act was introduced by Senators Bob Steinburg (R-District 1), Warren Daniel (R-District 46), and Danny Britt (R-District 13).
FAMM is a national nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice policies that safeguard taxpayer dollars and keep our communities safe. Founded in 1991, FAMM is helping transform America’s criminal justice system by uniting the voices of impacted families and individuals and elevating the issues all across the country.
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