A sentencing court denied the head of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s recommendation that it reduce Juan Felipe Melendez’ 16-year sentence due to good behavior.
“I felt terrible because my mom was there,” Melendez said. “The time has been harder on her than me. Every time I talk to her, she’s crying.”
California Penal Code 1170(d) 1 gives CDCR, District Attorneys, the Board of Parole Hearings and County Correctional Administrators the power to recommend that a court re-sentence an incarcerated person to lesser time for reasons like exceptionally good conduct, retroactive changes in sentencing laws and for unauthorized sentences. However, the court does not have to heed the recommendations and in many cases, have not.
CDCR numbers show that as of Feb. 26, 2019 about 52% of its recommendations received a lesser sentence. The department has only issued 34 letters of recommendation for exceptional conduct.
Melendez went before Santa Rita County Judge David A. Cena, with more than 50 letters of support. He says the first letter he received was from the head of CDCR, Secretary Ralph Diaz.
“I was thrilled,” Melendez said. “I was doing all these things because it was the right thing to do. I never expected to get any recognition from CDCR, but the fact that some- one was paying attention made a big impact on me.”
Other supporters, aside from family members, who sent in letters or came to testify on Melendez’s behalf included 26 formerly and currently incarcerated people.
“I can speak personally to the transformation that I saw firsthand and the impact that he had on me as a person,” testified Marlin Jeffreys, who served time at Solano with Melendez. “For two semesters, Juan Felipe continually took time out of his day to help me study and learn algebra.”
Besides tutoring, Melendez said he took every group available at Solano Correctional Facility, including Victim Awareness, Anger Management, Personal Transformation, Alterative to Violence, CDCR Psychology department Cognitive Behavior class, Prisoner’s Outreach Program (helping at risk youth), and Peer Health. Additionally, he said he’s a thesis away from getting a Master’s Degree in Humanities and another in Political Science from California State University at Dominguez.
With everything going for Melendez, he believed he was going home and gave away his TV, hotpot and radio. Plus his 74-year old mom, Maria Christina Navarrete, who is a history professor and author, flew in from Columbia for the hearing.
“She was really hoping and certain that with so much sup- port, he (the judge) was going to let me go,” Melendez said. “She came on the very last day because she wanted to be there when I got out.”
The judge who held Melendez 1170(d)1 hearing was the same judge that presided over the armed robbery charges from 2006. Also at the hear- ing was the man who Melendez robbed of an expensive watch with a .22 Cal gun. No one was physically hurt and the watch was never recovered.
Melendez, who then worked at Applied Materials where he was an employee of the month, was arrested for the crime three years later. Police found the .22 inside Melendez’s home with several parts missing from inside, which made it inoperable.
The sentencing court originally gave Melendez a total of 16 years, which included a 10 year enhancement for using a gun in a crime, for his first arrest and conviction.
More than 20 people showed up in court at the 1170(d)1 hearing to speak on behalf of the 42-year-old Melendez.
“We were just hoping he’d take one of the enhancements off,” Melendez said.
The victim spoke against Melendez’s early release.
“I was devastated,” Me- lendez said. “When I had to speak, I was kind of torn, but I said I would like to address the victim. It’s horrible that the burden that I imposed on him is still weighing down on him.”
The sentencing court denied Melendez’s re-sentencing request due to “The planning and sophistication in pretend- ing to buy a watch, then taking the watch.”