Charles Watts v. United States

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

November 9, 2021

Current Status 

On January 19, 2022, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a reply brief supplemented by a letter from Mr. Watts.

Client(s) 

Case Description 

On November 9, 2021, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a motion for compassionate release in the Eastern District of New York on behalf of Charles Watts, a 51-year-old Black man who is disproportionately sentenced to over 92 years in prison.  
 
Mr. Watts was 20 years old in 1990 when he and a childhood friend committed a series of robberies in Brooklyn using unloaded guns. His possession of a gun led to increased penalties under Section 924(c) of the criminal code. Section 924(c) was motivated by a tough-on-crime mentality that became increasingly punitive and broad, lacking a discretionary mechanism to ameliorate the harshness of its mandatory minimum. Despite having no prior criminal record, for each of his five counts, Mr. Watts received a mandatory minimum sentence: one 5-year term and four 20-year terms, on top of 87 months for the underlying crimes. Section 924(c) contains a “stacking rule” that requires the convicted person to serve their terms consecutively. If he remains in prison, Mr. Watts is not expected to be released until the age of 115.  
 
The First Step Act amended the mandatory “stacking” provisions under § 924(c)(1) for first-time offenders. Had Mr. Watts been sentenced under this new statute – or, put another way, had someone else been sentenced today for the same crimes – he would likely have received about 25 years. While these provisions of the First Step Act are not retroactive, they do offer individuals, like Charles Watts a second chance at a meaningful life. Numerous district courts have granted motions for compassionate release based on the circumstances presented by Mr. Watts's sentencing and rehabilitation.
 

Mr. Watts says he has changed for the better as an individual while incarcerated. He has children he has had to watch grow up from inside prison and grandchildren he has not yet personally met. He is also at risk of serious illness or death if he were to contract the COVID-19 virus. As Mr. Watts states in his letter to the court, "I am no longer the confused naive kid I was back in 1992, I am now a strong minded grown man that chose to take a different path, the good path. I made a grave mistake early on in my life by hanging out and messing with the wrong group of people and letting peer-pressure guide me in the wrong direction which cost me 30 years in prison away from my family and loved ones." 

The law now fully authorizes the court to exercise its compassion, recognize the redemptive power of a person who has changed his life, and grant Mr. Watts's compassionate release request, free from a continuing and unnecessary lifetime of incarceration.

Case Timeline

January 19, 2022
Center for Constitutional Rights replies to government opposition motion
January 19, 2022
Center for Constitutional Rights replies to government opposition motion
The Center for Constitutional Rights upholds arguments from the opening brief. The reply motion is supplemented with another letter from Charles Watts addressing the court.
December 20, 2021
Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at NYU School of Law files an amicus brief in support of the motion for compassionate release
December 20, 2021
Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at NYU School of Law files an amicus brief in support of the motion for compassionate release
December 6, 2021
Government opposes motion for compassionate release
December 6, 2021
Government opposes motion for compassionate release
The government puts forth arguments similar to those used during Mr. Watt's original sentencing.
November 9, 2021
Center for Constitutional Rights files a memorandum of law in support of motion for compassionate release
November 9, 2021
Center for Constitutional Rights files a memorandum of law in support of motion for compassionate release
In addition to the motion for compassionate release, we file a declaration from Charles Watts and letters of support from his loved ones.