Sentencing Mistake Sends Coachella Man Back to Prison

Sentencing Mistake Sends Coachella Man Back to Prison


"I feel like I’m in a nightmare," says Guadalupe Meraz, through tears.

She says her life has been turned upside down, "I don’t know what to do, I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know how to fight this." 

For the last two years, her husband Jesse Meraz has been a free man. He served almost eight years in prison for crimes that include robbery and possession of a firearm. But it appeared to be behind him.

"He’s an iron worker for the union we’re actively involved in our church Victory Outreach, we host Bible study at our house … we’ve done stop the violence marches with the City of Indio, the City of Coachella … he’s done tattoo removal … he’s done everything that he’s supposed to do as a citizen," says Guadalupe.

Then, they get a call that changed everything.

She says their attorney told them Proposition 36, the law that gave him a break didn’t apply to him, "The DA filed an appeal saying that he didn’t qualify for sentencing under the new law and he would have to go back." 

She says on Monday, they went to his court hearing armed with letters proving he was a different man, "From our church, to the retired Indio chief of police, his coworkers, my family, all vouching for him." 

But she says their hopes were dashed when the the judge didn’t read them before re-sentencing him to 25 years to life in prison, "We prayed together that morning and we believed because we’re doing everything we’re supposed to do that we would see justice and they took him, I walked out alone."

We reached out to Riverside County District Attorney, Mike Hestrin, to find out why this happened and if there was more to the story. His office responded with this email:

In 2011, the defendant was sentenced to 36 years to life. The sentence was appealed by the defendant, the appellate court reversed, and the case was sent back to the trial court for re-sentencing.

In 2014, the judge re-sentenced the defendant to eight years in prison. Our office appealed this re-sentencing, arguing that the court erred and failed to follow the appropriate sentencing rules. The appellate court held that the trial court erred and reversed the sentence, ruling that the defendant fell under the three-strikes sentencing law as it existed prior to the passage of Prop. 36, and the case was once again returned to the trial court for re-sentencing.

On Monday, Jan. 30, the judge sentenced the defendant to 25 years to life.

Guadalupe says this doesn’t make sense, "Why are you going to take one man back to do a life sentence when all these laws are changing in his favor?"

Jesse is being held without bail at the Southwest Detention Center. Guadalupe says they’re trying to see what they can do legally to reverse this sentencing.