Hike sentence

Trucker’s 110-year sentence in fatal I-70 crash highlights Colorado’s sentencing laws and prosecutors’ charging decisions – The Denver Post

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos

The 110-year prison sentence imposed this week on the truck driver who killed four people when he lost his brakes on Interstate 70 has put a new spotlight on Colorado’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws and on the ability of district attorneys to use these laws to secure convictions. lead to prison sentences.

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, 26, was given a prison sentence twice as long as some murderers in Colorado after his convictions triggered provisions in state law that forced District Court Judge Bruce Jones to impose a minimum sentence of 110 years.

The judge said at Monday’s sentencing hearing that he had no discretion to set a lesser jail term, although he would have liked to. A family member of a man who died in the fiery 28-car pileup in Lakewood said he does not want a life sentence for the driver of the truck.

And the day after the sentencing, First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King – who prosecuted the convictions that led to the 110-year sentence – said in a statement that she would “welcome” a review of the prison sentence. .

Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence spans more than a century because under Colorado law first-degree assault and attempted first-degree assault are ‘felonies of violence’ in which prison sentences must be served consecutively, and not simultaneously, when they occur. of the same incident.

“This is a grossly excessive sentence,” said Mark Silverstein, chief legal officer for the ACLU of Colorado. “He calls for the reform of the laws on penalties. But I think calls for change must also target the rarely criticized but largely unchecked power of prosecutors. They have the power to decide who goes to jail and for how long. Prosecutors decide what charges to bring, and they decide what plea bargains to offer.

King declined to speak to the Denver Post about the case, which was originally indicted by his predecessor, Pete Weir, and instead sent statements through a spokesperson this week.

“The facts and consequences of Mr. Aguilera-Mederos’ decisions that day were extraordinary enough to warrant the prosecution of first-degree assault charges,” she said. Aguilera-Mederos refused to accept any plea offers “other than a ticket,” King said, and the convictions recognize the harm caused to the victims of the accident.

“My administration envisioned a materially different outcome in this matter, but Mr. Aguilera-Mederos was not interested in pursuing these negotiations,” she said.

Aguilera-Mederos’ attorney, James Colgan, would not discuss the type of plea bargain being considered, except to say the talks “were not fruitful.”

Silverstein said King’s statement suggests the district attorney’s office overcharged the case in an attempt to pressure Aguilera-Mederos to plead guilty rather than take the case to trial.

“It is out of place for the prosecutor to blame the defendant for exercising his constitutional rights,” Silverstein said.

George Brauchler, former district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, disagreed.

“I have little sympathy for someone who refuses an offer of reasonable sentence negotiation and then goes to trial and laments the fact that the worst thing that could happen to them has happened,” he said.

Mandatory Consecutive Sentences

Colorado’s mandatory minimum sentences were largely established in the 1990s as a response to rising crime and a perception among conservative politicians that state judges were handing down lenient sentences, said Stan Garnett, a former Boulder County District Attorney.

There were concerns that sentences for the same crimes would vary widely depending on the judge and possibly the accused, Brauchler said.

The laws give enormous power to district attorneys, Garnett said.

“You can, in how you charge the case, predetermine what the sentence will be and put extreme pressure on the defendant to plead,” he said. “This makes it impossible for a judge to fashion a sentence that fits the particular crime and the particular defendant.”

Brauchler said the laws ensure that perpetrators of violent crimes that injure multiple victims are held accountable for prison terms for each victim, since the sentences must be consecutive.

“This guy killed four people,” Brauchler said. “How long are four lives worth?” »

He added that those convicted of driving homicide in Colorado, which carries a recommended sentence of two to six years in prison, can be sentenced to probation instead of jail.

“If that was the only charge, homicide while driving a vehicle, this guy might have walked out of the courtroom,” he said. “There’s no result, using these weak charges, that even comes close to justice. It can’t be justice when you kill four people.

In October, a jury found Aguilera-Mederos guilty of four counts of homicide while driving, six counts of first-degree assault, 10 counts of attempted first-degree assault, four counts of reckless driving causing the death, two counts of assault while driving a vehicle and one count of dangerous driving.

A chance to reduce the sentence

The state’s mandatory minimums laws have come under criticism in recent years, and some of the state minimums have been reduced or removed.

State Sen. Bob Gardner, a year-old Republican from Colorado Springs who serves on the sentencing reform task force, said Tuesday he was reviewing Aguilera-Mederos’ case.

“When I saw the story this morning, I thought it was worth checking with prosecutors and defense attorneys to find out if this is an anomaly, if it is something we need to address and, frankly, to see if it’s something as we go through our sentencing reform that could be addressed,” he said.

The task force, formed by Gov. Jared Polis last year to review and suggest changes to the state’s sentencing laws, began its work with misdemeanor cases and has yet to consider sentencing reform. the felony conviction, said Maureen Cain, task force member and director of legislative policy and external communications for the Colorado Public Defender’s Office. This work should begin next year.

Aguilera-Mederos intends to appeal the jury’s verdict, Colgan said, and is also considering a variety of sentencing challenges, though those challenges will have to wait until the end of the appeals process. An online petition calling on Polis to commute Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence had more than a million signatures as of Wednesday night.

“The law is so frustrating because it ends in miscarriages of justice like this,” Colgan said Tuesday. “The law is poorly drafted.

The state’s Mandatory Sentencing Act allows the trial judge to reduce the sentence within 91 days of Aguilera-Mederos’ committal to the Department of Corrections, after the department assesses Aguilera-Mederos and submits a report to the judge. The judge must find “unusual and extenuating circumstances” to vary the sentence, according to the law – a step Jones hinted Monday he would be willing to take.

Aguilera-Mederos could also ask the court to reconsider the sentence through other legal avenues, Colgan said.

Colgan expects Augilera-Mederos won’t be eligible for parole until he turns 70 or 80 — state law dictates he must serve 75% of his sentence (that’s about 82 years) before he could be released on parole.

That percentage often ends up being closer to 50% of the total sentence once the Department of Corrections applies credits for time spent, good times and other measures, Brauchler said.

“No one on planet Earth can tell you how many days this guy will serve before he’s eligible for parole,” Brauchler said.

Colgan said the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws should be changed to give judges more discretion.

“(If) you don’t allow the judge to put some humanity in the law, it becomes a rubber stamp,” he said, “and everybody gets sucked in.”