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November 26, 2022

Man’s quest for freedom denied, for now

SANTA CRUZ—A man hoping a new set of California laws would ease his lengthy prison sentence will have to wait a while longer while his case is appealed.

Vincent Marquez, now 65, was in court on Aug. 26 for his resentencing hearing. He is one of hundreds across the state who stand to have their sentences reduced thanks to Senate Bill 483, which retroactively removes 1- and 3-year enhancements for previous offenses, and Penal Code 1170.1, which invalidates other enhancements.

He is serving time in Soledad State Prison for a 2008 burglary conviction, his sentences totaling more than four decades. 

The relatively new laws are now being test-run throughout the state, with many inmates having their sentences cut, or even walking out of prison after judges and prosecutors agree that they no longer pose a danger to the public.

Marquez’s attorney is Michelle Lipperd, who heads up the Collateral Consequences And Reentry Team for the County’s new Public Defender office. She says that Marquez is eligible for a full resentencing, meaning he could see several of his enhancements stricken and be freed earlier than his sentence currently calls for.

In all, that would mean he would see 19 years taken off his sentence of 43 years to life.

Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Paul Marigonda had a different take, and said he was approaching the case with a more narrow interpretation. He said that the law does not allow for striking serious felony charges. Instead, he struck a single one-year enhancement, and let the rest of the original sentence stand.

Lipperd has appealed the ruling to the 6th District Court of Appeal. It is unclear when Marquez’s case will be heard there.

When that happens, Lipperd says she hopes the judges will agree that the lower court has the authority to offer Marquez a full resentencing.

Marigonda also said he was hesitant to allow a full resentencing, since there has been little guidance and few decisions on the new laws from appellate courts. He acknowledged therefore that the higher court could disagree with his reading of the law. 

“This is what the courts are for,” he said. “This is what the appellate courts are for. We have no guidance from any appellate court and I’m not prepared to make such a determination in this particular case.”

Lipperd said there is a reason there has been no word on the issue from the federal level.

“The reason there are no other appellate issues is that no other court has agreed with Marigonda’s decision,” she said. “Every court up and down the state is resentencing, except him.”

Marquez says that he is no longer a threat to the community, and points out that nobody was hurt during the commission of his crime.

He attributes his life of crime to a heroin addiction, which he has beaten. A single marijuana possession charge three years ago tacked on an additional 300 days onto his sentence.

He has a sizable contingent of family and friends in Watsonville ready to support him, including his wife of 30 years.

Marquez also says that he is a high-risk medical inmate, thanks to asthma, hip replacement surgery and his age.

Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Lauren Apter said her office opposes Marquez’s request for a full resentencing, a decision she says is based largely on his conduct while in prison.

This includes not taking part in programs such as substance abuse and behavior intervention. In fact, he asked to be removed from those programs last year. Marquez said he did so out of fear of Covid-19.

Apter pointed out that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation—one of two entities that can recommend an inmate for resentencing—denied a recent request to do so. This was based in part on the marijuana charge.

“We would argue that the sentence is still appropriate given his history and conduct in custody and the nature of the (original) offense,” Apter said.

Lipperd said that none of Marquez’s incidents behind bars have been violent, and none involved drugs such as heroin.

One piece of good news for Marquez—and which could be a boon if it returns to the County level—is that Marigonda’s striking of his one-year sentence enhancement signaled the judge’s agreement that Marquez does not pose a danger if released.

“When it comes back, that cannot be relitigated,” she said.

If the higher court upholds Marigonda’s decision, Marquez can look forward to an elderly parole hearing in 2028.

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