Sentence of convicted child molester to be reduced
Convicted child molester Luis Ponce, who was sentenced in 2007 to 68 years to life in state prison, has successfully overturned that sentencing due to ineffective representation by his attorney.
He is set to be resentenced April 6 to 30 years to life, the plea agreement offer he claimed was not accurately presented to him prior to his trial. Ponce will be 80 by the time he is eligible for parole under the new sentence.
“I believe the original sentence was appropriate, given the facts presented at trial,” said Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell. “It’s unfortunate they were able to make the case that he wasn’t adequately represented. Ponce had a very, very experienced defense attorney working for his case. I don’t for a second believe David Billingsley did anything less than his absolute best to make sure Ponce’s constitutional rights were guaranteed throughout the jury process.”
Ponce was convicted of 16 counts for molesting girls between the ages of 1 and 3, and videotaping the assaults.
Investigators with the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office were tipped off when Ponce’s co-worker at the Berkeley Fire Department reported finding some of the discs at Ponce’s work station.
Ponce — who was raising eight children, six of whom were adopted — was arrested on Jan. 26, 2006, after police searched his work and home, finding a mountain of evidence against him, including several computer discs and videotapes.
In October 2012, Ponce filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus alleging that his attorney had provided ineffective counsel by failing to properly advise him regarding a plea bargain; an evidentiary hearing was held in July 2014.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson ruled in Ponce’s favor, writing, “The underlying facts of the conviction, no matter how extremely offensive or aggravating … are not relevant to the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel.”
The disparity between the plea offer and the potential sentence in the case (160 years to life) was extreme, Anderson noted, writing that it was the duty of Ponce’s attorney to inform him of the consequences of being found guilty of the charges, as well as of any plea offers and his options pertaining to those offers.
Ponce testified that he met with his attorney four times, other than during court appearances, and spoke to him on the phone once.
He said his attorney never discussed a plan for his defense and told him there would be a plea agreement only if the prosecutor agreed to a determinate sentence.
He testified he first became aware he was facing a potential sentence of 160 years to life after the trial, and that his attorney never discussed the benefits of a plea bargain, telling him “life is life.”
Ponce testified that if he had known the significance of the plea offer and the amount of time he was facing, accepting a plea agreement would have been a “no-brainer.”
Anderson noted in his decision that Ponce’s defense attorney had to be instructed to show him evidence during his preliminary hearing, supporting his claim that he did not have effective communication. At the trial, Ponce’s attorney did not present any evidence or testimony in support of any theory of defense, Anderson said, adding that the jury returned its verdict in less than five hours.
Ponce “sustained his burden of proving that counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness … The fact that it was the desire of the victims and family to avoid a trial, the age of the petitioner at the time of sentence and the indeterminate term were such that the trial judge was likely to have accepted the offered plea.”
Anderson ruled that Ponce likely would have been granted the sentence of 30 years to life and should be resentenced to that term, writing, “any other remedy would create a considerable burden on the government and on the victims and their family.”
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.
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