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Mandatory sentencing run amok in Colorado

On Behalf of | Dec 17, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

One of the major recent news stories was truck driver Rogel Aguilera-Mederos’s sentencing for 110 years. The man caused the 2019 accident on I-70 after his truck’s brakes failed, killing four. He was guilty of 27 counts, including four counts of vehicular manslaughter, six counts of assault in the first degree and ten counts of attempted to commit assault (which have a mandatory 5 years for each count) in the first degree (which have a mandatory 10-year minimum for each count). The sentences must be served consecutively, leading to a total of 110 years. He is also sentenced to 30 years for 11 other charges that he will serve concurrently with other sentences.

Although the brakes failed due to a mechanical defect, prosecutors argued that the driver should have addressed the issue and taken an off-ramp before crashing into stopped vehicles.

Life sentence for a mistake?

The central issue here is that the driver made an error in judgment by not getting the truck off the road when it was safe to do so, regardless of what the charges say. There was nothing premeditated, malicious, or calculated to harm or kill the victims. The judge who sentenced Aguilera-Mederos said as much from the bench, but he was bound by Colorado law to hand down the sentence.

Does the state punish those who go to trial?

There were no reports of whether the driver was offered a plea deal before going to trial, but since 97% of cases go that way, the driver and his legal team likely had an offer. They opted to take their case to a jury, perhaps believing that the facts would minimize his sentence. The prosecution then brought every charge possible, hoping that some of them would stick. The wording of the law’s use of consecutive sentencing ensured that it added up to a disproportionate result even though the judge issued the minimum sentence allowed under the guidelines – the judge did say he would not have issued minimums if the sentences were not consecutive.

No one wanted a lifetime sentence

The judge also pointed out that: “In all victim impact statements I read, I did not glean from them someone saying, ‘He should be in prison for the rest of his life, and he should never, ever get out,” Jones said. “Far from it. There was forgiveness reflected in those statements, but also a desire that he be punished and serve time in prison, and I share those sentiments.”

An appeal likely

While the sentencing was correctly handed down, there will likely be an appeal on the draconian nature of the results. It could lead to changes in sentencing guidelines and hopefully a proportionate sentence for the driver.