Vincent Marquez with his wife Paz Marquez during a visit at the Correctional Training Facility, a prison in Soledad. —contributed photo

Two Watsonville men serving long prison terms are hoping that a series of new state laws will bring freedom sooner than originally expected.

Vincent Marquez, who is serving a decades-long prison sentence for a 2008 burglary conviction, could see his sentence reduced this year due to Senate Bill 483 from 2022, which retroactively removes one-year prison prior and three-year drug prior enhancements, and Penal Code 1170.1, which invalidates other enhancements.

Marquez, now 67, will return to Santa Cruz County Superior Court on Jan. 18 for a resentencing hearing.

Martin Tapia Reyes, 48, was given 35 years to life in 2010 for acting as a lookout in the burglary of a La Selva Beach surf shop while an accomplice stole $10.

Much of Reyes’s sentence came from his gang involvement and prior convictions—10 misdemeanors and four felonies. He is hoping that Assembly Bill 600—which took effect on Jan. 1—will help him get out of prison sooner than his 2034 parole date.

SB 600 streamlines the process by allowing judges to recall sentences and eliminates the requirement that the district attorney or Attorney General concur with the resentencing court’s decision.

The Jan. 18 date will be Marquez’s second attempt to use SB 483.

In September 2022, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Paul Marigonda denied Marquez’s first petition. But Marquez took the case to an appellate court in Oakland, and in May 2023 a judge ruled that Marigonda erred, and that Marquez should be resentenced.

While Marquez was convicted in 2008 for a burglary, due to California’s harsh criminal justice stance—which adds years onto sentences for past crimes and prior prison time—he was handed a sentence totaling more than 40 years. 

He is currently serving time based on just those enhancements.

He will soon be transferred to Santa Cruz County Jail, where on Jan. 18 a judge could strike some or all of those years. He could return to his Watsonville home this year, where his wife and a community of supporters await.

Santa Cruz County public defender Michelle Lipperd, who manages resentencing cases for the office, says that Marquez has a chance of success. Out of 25 petitions for sentence reductions, she says, just two have been denied.

Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Lauren Apter says her office determines each application for resentencing on a case-by-case basis, a process that includes considering the inmate’s conduct while in prison and whether they participated in treatment and other programs.

Marquez’s denial in 2022 came after prosecutors pointed out he had not participated in enough programs while incarcerated.

“Our big issue with Mr. Marquez is that we didn’t find him very credible,” she said. “If he comes back and he’s showed some improvement and he took it to heart and he was participating, we would be open to reconsidering taking a couple of years off. But if we still see the same public safety risks, we would oppose again.”

Apter, who oversees resentencing cases, says she also consults the attorneys who worked the cases and the victims’ families.

All of this with a single paralegal.

“It’s a pretty laborious process,” she said.

Martin Tapia Reyes
Martin Tapia Reyes. Contributed photo

Reyes’ friend Jessica Guzman said that he is eligible for resentencing based on the previous laws and on SB 600.

But the trouble is how to get his petition in front of a judge. Inmates cannot do it themselves, so it falls on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a district attorney or the judges to make the recommendation, Lipperd said.

Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Rosell has told the Pajaronian that his office determines resentencing requests on a case-by-case basis that includes conduct while in prison.

Guzman said that Reyes’ petition for resentencing—when it finds its way in front of a judge—will be strengthened by his conduct while in prison. He is a model prisoner who has completed numerous courses, certificates and programs, including learning auto body repair, she said.

He is also an artist whose murals can be found throughout the prison, including the gym and the visitation room, Guzman said.

She acknowledges that Reyes has a checkered past, having lived the same lifestyle that still captures many of their friends.

“It sucks you in, that’s all you know,” she said. “But when he’s doing his art, that’s his escape.”

Like Marquez, Reyes is now serving time based solely on his gang enhancements. Ironically, he is seeing people convicted of murder released while he sits in prison for participating in a burglary, Guzman said.

Had he been sentenced solely for the crime, Reyes would have been released about 14 years ago, she adds.

“His life ended when he got sentenced,” Guzman said. “35 years for gang enhancements is severe. He’s watching people come and go for more serious crimes.”

While the new resentencing changes are now the law of the land, they have become a thorn in the side for some judges, who say it dilutes their discretion and unnecessarily complicates an already complex process.

The Second Appellate District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles on Dec. 13 allowed the resentencing of Frank Ruiz, a gang member who shot at but missed a fleeing victim in an October 2013 attack.

While the judges agreed to strike a 10-year firearms enhancement, thus reducing Ruiz’s original 28-year sentence, they also said that such cases come back to them several times, clogging up their busy dockets.

“Because of the Legislature’s constant tinkering with the already complex sentencing rules, the law has become an unsettled minefield,” the opinion reads. 

The goal of the determinate sentence law, the judges add, is to “impose terms that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offense,” while allowing for “uniformity in the sentences of offenders committing the same offense under similar circumstances.” 

The nine-page opinion ends with a question. 

“Does anyone think that this goal is now being achieved?”

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA. https://pajaronian.com/r-p-reporter-honored-by-csba/

4 COMMENTS

  1. Important issue but the public defender mentioned is Lipperd (not Lippert)and the DA mentioned is Apter (not Alper.)

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  2. Important issue but the public defender mentioned is Lipperd (not Lippert)and the DA mentioned is Apter (not Alper.)

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  3. It is amazing how our system works, you got someone doing life sentences for enhancements and burglary, but you got rapists, child molesters and murderers walking the streets? The time does not fit the crime. My cousin was murdered and the guy that senselessly murdered him will be up for the parole board in 11 years and possibly given a chance to walk the streets again and be with his family and maybe even have the chance to have a family of his own while my aunt suffers the loss and his 3 children growing up without their father, what a slap in the face for the victims family. I definitely hope they go back and correct the sentencing in these cases. I will be at the court hearing that is coming up on January 18th and in hopes that Vincent will be released. If anyone is interested in joining me to the courthouse in Santa Cruz on January 18th please free to contact me through email, [email protected].

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  4. It’s with a humble heart that we bring this important issue to light, as we serve a forgiving God.

    Please consider Reaching out & Allow these men to show their remorse that has helped bring on their change.

    John 8:7 He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.

    We Thank everyone for allowing us to express our support, as we hope and pray to bring our loved ones home soon!

    -Blessings all the way around.

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