Tag Archives: mandatory

Man Sentenced to 110 Years for for Crash that Killed 4 in Colorado

Obviously, 110 years for an accident is a lot of time- it’s life in prison, even where four people died, the crash was due to an accident. The driver’s brakes failed, but the prosecutor was able to convict him on 27 counts for the actions he took after the mechanical issues arose. At one point, it was argued that he should have slammed into another truck, essentially committing suicide, as opposed to attempting the evasive maneuvers that resulted in the crash. The judge ultimately suggested that he would not have sentenced Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, 23, so harshly if he had not been required to do so by law.

This article indicates the most serious charges were the four counts of vehicular manslaughter for the people who passed away, but due to the violent crimes mandatory sentencing strictures, Colorado required harsher sentences on the assault charges than the manslaughter charges. The judge’s hands were tied, and had to sentence the six assault charges to 10 years each, and mandated that they be sentenced consecutively. Further, the 10 attempted assault charges each carry a mandatory five-year sentence, also required to be served consecutively. Add those up, and the judge had no choice but to enter a 110-year sentence.

For the remaining charges, including the manslaughter charges, the judge entered a sentence of 30 years in prison, to be served non-consecutively. The judge gave a sever sentence for the deaths that the jury had found Mr. Aguilera-Merderos culpable for, but did not seek a sentence that would surely extend beyond his lifespan. One can clearly extrapolate that he did not feel such a sentence was appropriate, but was bound to make it based on the laws in Colorado and the way the prosecutor chose to bring the charges. The judge even suggested that he was bound by law to the sentence, and that none of the victims (and families) who gave testimony suggested that a sentence beyond life was appropriate. The mandatory minimums resulted in a sentence that was beyond what the judge felt was just, but took away the discretion of the court to apply reason.

We have decried the issues with mandatory minimum sentences here before, and the issue is prevalent in Florida, as well. This reminds me of the Marissa Alexander assault case that resulted in a disproportionate sentence a few years ago- and ultimately lead to changes in Florida law. As a general rule, mandatory minimum sentences may be well intentioned, but where there is no discretion, will ultimately be used to an unjust end.

Fortunately, Colorado does have a provision that would permit the court to revisit these sentences after 6 months. Indeed, the judge referenced that the sentences would be revisited, suggesting that he may be open to a showing that would permit them to be reduced. Based on everything stated, that appears to be a likely, and just, result.

I also want to add that Colorado’s assault statute includes reckless behavior (“manifesting extreme indeference to the value of human life”), which is unusual. The crime of assault historically required the intent to place fear/strike/or injure the victim. So, even though Mr. Aguilera-Mederos did not manifest any intent, he was convicted and is now subject to the ‘violent’ crime sentencing structure. That suggests that the sentene may be of a type more sever that intended by the legislature, but certainly applicable under Colorado’s definition of assault. (Usually, behavior so reckless to endanger life is criminally punishable, but not usually as assault. That’s the type of language for manslaughter or reckless driving in most jurisdictions.)

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos

Bill Clinton Admits Error on Overreaching Mandatory Prison Sentences

You won’t find me agreeing with Bill Clinton on a lot of things, but he has come out today to speak out against the harsh sentencing policies that he helped put in place when he was president. I have written many times on the problems of mandatory sentences, from unjust results due to a lack of judicial discretion, to the lack of deterrent effect they actual have. See Marissa Alexander. The pros do not outweigh the cons in most instances. My last post about the man in Bradenton facing 15 years (and $270,000 in taxpayer expense for incarceration) is merely exemplar of a bigger problem.

The good news is, there is an interest in change, and it’s apparent on both sides of the political spectrum. From John Oliver’s takedown of the racist results of decades of draconian sentencing policies, to Senator Rand Paul’s criticism of harsh sentences for Marijuana, there is a real movement developing for common sense in sentencing. The reasons are plentiful for fiscal and moral grounds and in the interest of real justice.

A look at harsh mandatory sentences

A Reuters story made the rounds on Facebook a few days ago, and I wanted to share it here. Quantarius Davis was involved in a series of armed robberies, and was sentenced in Federal court to almost 162 years- effectively a life sentence.  While his involvement in these serious offenses warrants severe punishment, it should be noted that he didn’t shoot anyone, and nobody was killed (although his codefendant got shot in the butt by a victim.)  Beyond that, Mr. Davis was only 19 years old, and has a learning disability and mental health disorder.  He was not the ringleader, and has no prior record.  His codefendants were sentences from 9 to 22 years.

What concerns me is that the court was not allowed to take these mitigating factors into consideration when entering sentence against him.  Mandatory sentencing provisions mandated that the judge sentence him so severely, without letting the court consider whether the punishment fit the crime.  I’m not saying that the punishment is not appropriate… I am saying that the court should be allowed to make a reasoned decision what is appropriate.  Legislators in their desire to appear tough on crime and to hamstring judges from disproportionately lenient sentences, have mandated heavy sentences without any judicial discretion for judges to be judges.

One thing I want to make clear- the article appears to attribute the harsh sentences to Florida’s generally harsh sentencing structure.  However, this case was handled in Federal Court, under Federal guidelines, and just happened to have happened in Florida.  Though he could have been looking at harsh sentences in Florida as well (his discharge of a firearm during a robbery triggers a 20 year man/min).

I just want to keep the issue of taking away judicial discretion as a troubling trend.  This kid is likely never getting out, and the recent decisions regarding juvenile life sentences won’t help him because he’s a year too old.  Examples abound, the first that springs to mind was the mandatory sentence on the Georgia 17-year-old and the 15-year-old with whom he engaged in oral sex.   That sentence was eventually reduced as disproportionate.