Riverside judge refuses to reduce life sentences for two teens charged with second degree murder
By Angela Patel
RIVERSIDE, CA – Riverside County Superior Court Judge Otis Sterling III at the end of last week refused to remove the sentence increases for two teenagers at the time, Noel Hernandez and Carlos Martinez, who are currently serving a life sentence for murder in 2014.
Hernandez and Martinez were convicted of second degree murder in 2018 after a jury trial.
When the murder took place, Hernandez was only 18, with no criminal record. Martinez was 19, was on felony probation at the time of the crime, and had several previous strikes on his record.
In addition to the second degree murder charge, 25 years have been added to Hernandez’s sentence due to a California law that imposes an increased sentence for using a firearm in a serious crime. The jury found that Hernandez possessed and deliberately fired the gun that killed the victim.
Hernandez’s final sentence was 40 years in life, a very long sentence for an 18-year-old without a previous conviction.
Hernandez’s defense attorney Mario Rodriguez has asked the court to remove the gun enhancement from his sentence, which would leave Hernandez with 15 years in prison for life.
He argued that because of Hernandez’s age, his lack of a criminal record and the fact that the murder was not “particularly brutal”, the court should reverse the 25-year increase in the interests of Justice.
“This case is a tragic reminder of why we have gun laws and why 18-year-olds shouldn’t walk around with guns on them,” Rodriguez noted.
However, he also questioned the impact of the law on sentencing in murder cases like this.
“The legislature has ruled that crimes involving the use of firearms have improvements, and this decision is a legislative choice that we are bound to honor, but the truth of the matter is, if someone is dead, it does not. may not make much difference between using a knife or a machete, or using some other type of lethal weapon. All homicides are horrific by nature, ”he argued.
District defense attorney Jacob Silva opposed removing the enhancement for Hernandez and argued that the enhancement should never be removed for cases involving murder.
“All of this murder doesn’t happen if Mr. Hernandez doesn’t leave his house with a gun,” Silva said.
Silva also claimed the murder was brutal, as Hernandez essentially “blew [the victim’s] brains ”while Martinez held a screwdriver to the victim’s throat.
The victim’s mother appeared in court to support the increased sentences of the two defendants. “These two criminals deserve their life sentences,” she said.
Judge Otis Sterling took a long time to go over the details of the case before making a decision regarding the gun enhancement strike.
“The penalty is severe,” said the judge. “The goal [of the gun enhancement] is so that people do not carry guns, especially for young people who might act out of immaturity. This case seems to be the exact case for which the law was passed and why the sentence is so severe. “
“It was a crime of great violence which was committed under circumstances which show planning,” he added.
Essentially, the reason the judge refused to suppress the gun enhancement was that this case was a perfect example of why gun penalty enhancements were originally imposed, and neither the The age of the accused nor the statements of his family did not overcome the reasoning behind the law.
When asked by defense attorney Rodriguez if he would consider reducing gun improvement, Judge Sterling said he did not believe it was in his power to change gun improvement. gun penalty (rather than removing it altogether) because of the wording of the law.
Due to Judge Sterling’s ruling, Hernandez’s sentence will remain at 40 years in life.
In the same case, Martinez’s defense lawyer Laura Garcia asked the court to remove the five-year mark-up that is added to the sentence of anyone convicted of a serious or violent crime with a previous felony conviction.
The five-year improvement works in addition to the law that doubles the sentences of those who have already been convicted of felony.
A law passed in 2018 allowed judges to reject this five-year improvement, also known as “nickel prior.”
Garcia argued that although Martinez has a long criminal history, his age and participation in education and rehabilitation programs both inside and outside of prison was proof that he did not did not deserve the enhanced punishment.
DDA Silva responded very strongly, arguing that Martinez was “going deep into the deep end” at the time of the crime and “started a criminal career from a young age”.
“Between the ages of 14 and 19, he went from vandalism to murder,” noted Silva. “He was on a path. He was going to be a murderer. That’s who he was back then. He has deserved and deserves all the punishments the law allows.
According to Silva, Martinez is “the exact person these laws were meant to punish.”
While Judge Sterling noted that he took into consideration the hardships Martinez faced in his youth, he also argued that Martinez needed to do more self-reflection in order to appreciate the decisions he made that resulted in the death of the victim.
Sterling underlined several words and phrases in Martinez’s letter, in which he asked the court to write off the nickel first, which he said showed the accused did not fully understand his role in the murder.
Martinez, in the letter, called his involvement in the murder a “bad choice,” which the judge said ignored the many bad choices that led to the victim’s death. Martinez also called the event an “accident,” despite the judge’s findings and the jury’s ruling that the murder was not accidental.
As to the age of the accused, the judge said: “He was old enough to know what he was doing, he was old enough to bring a screwdriver to the altercation.
Judge Sterling ultimately dismissed the defense’s request to overturn the increased five-year sentence for Martinez, maintaining his total sentence at 36 years in life.