The case of Joshua Armond Cadenaz-Lopez and Ricky Gomez Hernandez was covered extensively over the course of a five-week trial. The Vanguard involvement in this case actually began at their arrest last October in West Sacramento on weapons charges, where the two were eventually tied to the robberies through video evidence.
The guilt of the defendants in this case is not really in question, they were part of a small crew of people who committed armed robberies at four different locations in Yolo and Sacramento Counties, including a Denny’s restaurant, a 7-Eleven in West Sacramento and two ampm convenience stores in Sacramento County over a 48-hour period last October.
The DA presented evidence that nine separate victims were robbed at gunpoint and at times ordered to the ground.
The DA’s press release notes: “According to the evidence, which included video surveillance, the defendants would enter each establishment, guns drawn, and demand money from the patrons and store staff. Although the robbers wore masks, the prosecution was able to establish identity of the perpetrators by comparing surveillance video to cell phone videos, photos, clothing, weapons and other items of evidence collected in the investigation.”
The press release also has a quote from DA Jeff Reisig.
He said: “Street gangs are a collective criminal enterprise that requires law enforcement agencies to work together, which was done and done well in this case.
“Holding victims at gunpoint in public businesses,” Mr. Reisig added, “is brazen, violent and terrifying conduct by street gangs, which cannot be tolerated.”
There is no doubt that these are serious crimes and quite dangerous. However, once you put the gun charges, the gang enhancements, and the multiple robbery charges together, what you get is something in the realm of the absurd. Mr. Hernandez now faces 85 years in prison. Mr. Cadenaz-Lopez faces over 100 years in prison.
A year ago, we asked the question: Can We Be Safe without Overcharging Cases? At that time, we talked to a mother whose son received 35 years to life, where her son and others were convicted of attempted murder after they fired on what turned out to be an uninhabited dwelling in Woodland.
By the time the DA added gang and gun enhancements, her son received the life sentence where he won’t even be eligible for parole until he’s served 85 percent of the time, and then only if a parole board – notoriously stingy, especially with gang cases – approves his release.
She acknowledges that what he did was extremely dangerous, not to mention stupid. She agrees he needed to be punished for what he did.
At the same time, no one was hurt and, therefore, the sentence seems excessive. Why are we arguing that someone who does something very stupid at the age of 20 should be effectively incarcerated for the rest of his life? At the very least, he should get a chance to make amends, and be given a second chance to become a productive member of society.
That is a similar situation to what we have here. There is no doubt that these two individuals engaged in frightening and dangerous behavior. They deserve prison time. They even deserve a lot of prison time. But should they be locked away for the rest of their lives with no possibility of parole? Because when you get an 85- or 100-year sentence, even at the age of 20 or 22, that’s what you are looking at.
Critics of sentencing in the United States have pointed out that our sentencing schemes are counterproductive and not cost effective.
We end up sentencing people more as they get older and commit additional crimes. There is a logic to that – we tend to go easier on people who have been convicted of fewer crimes, assuming that those who repeatedly commit crimes are more likely to continue to do so.
The research shows that criminal activity actually peaks relatively early in life and, as individuals age, they commit fewer crimes and the crimes they commit tend to be less violent. The truly dangerous and unrepentant career criminals are relatively rare.
Not only are older people much less likely to commit further crimes, the cost to incarcerate them goes up as they require more health care.
Mark Mauer, director of the Sentencing Project, has advocated for a 20-year cap that gives judges or parole boards the opportunity to add more time if necessary.
As a recent article in the New York Times points out, “Research by American social scientists shows that all but the most exceptional criminals, even violent ones, mature out of lawbreaking before middle age, meaning that long sentences do little to prevent crime.”
The peak of criminal rates are somewhere between the age of 16 and 19 for violent crimes, while forgery, fraud and embezzlement peak in the early 20s.
“For most of the crimes the F.B.I. tracks, more than half of all offenders will be arrested by the time they are 30,” journalist Dana Goldstein reports.
Criminal careers also do not last long, as research by “criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon and colleagues has found that for the eight serious crimes closely tracked by the F.B.I. — murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, arson and car theft — five to 10 years is the typical duration that adults commit these crimes, as measured by arrests.
“Property criminals, like burglars and car thieves, tend to stop in their 20s, while violent criminals are more likely to continue into their early 30s. Drug-crime careers can be lengthier, stretching into the mid-30s, yet long sentences have had little effect on the drug trade,” the article notes.
“When you lock up a rapist, you take his rapes off the street. When you lock up a drug seller, you recruit a replacement,” Professor Blumstein said.
All of this ties into improving research on brain development that “suggests that the parts of the brain that govern risk and reward are not fully developed until age 25, after which lawbreaking drops off.”
There is also the fact: “Young people are more likely to be poor than older people, and poorer people are more likely to commit crimes.”
What we need is to align sentencing policies with the latest research on criminality and incarceration. Allowing a parole board or other board to assess actual risk rather than to set a minimum sentence years in advance seems much more logical than the current system.
We see in Yolo County, time and time again, disproportionately long sentences for crimes that do not result in death or even, in many cases, great bodily injury. So we end up putting young kids away for life or lengthy periods of times for stupid and dangerous things that they did while in their youth, and that seems not to serve the ultimate interest and goals of justice.
—David M. Greenwald reporting