Prosecutors slam Colorado trucker’s reduced prison sentence

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DENVER | The reduction of a 110-year prison sentence to 10 years by Colorado’s governor for a trucker convicted of killing four people in a fiery interstate crash is hurting prosecutors’ efforts to negotiate sentences in other cases, according to two district attorneys.

The Dec. 30 commutation by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis for the trucker was “unprecedented, premature and unwarranted” because Rogel Aguilera-Mederos’ case was still active, with a judge scheduled to review a prosecutor’s request to reduce the sentence, said Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty and Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein.

Dougherty is a Democrat and Rubinstein is a Republican and both told Polis in a Jan. 20 letter that his decision “is having a substantial ripple effect” on other cases, The Denver Post reported on Wednesday. The Post obtained the letter through an open records request.

“Sentences should be influenced by the facts and circumstances, not by petitions, online surveys or tweets,” they said, referring to a national campaign to lower Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence prior to Polis’ decision.

Dougherty and Rubinstein said that the decision affected prosecutors’ efforts to reach an eight-year sentence in a recent Boulder County sexual assault case, saying the defendant’s attorney objected that eight years was excessive in light of Aguilera-Mederos’ 10-year term.

Dougherty told The Post that he and Rubinstein met with Polis after they sent the letter and that the prosecutors “are optimistic that our concerns were understood and that what happened in that case was an exception.”

Polis spokesman Conor Cahill said the governor reduced the trucker’s sentence because “there was clearly an urgency to remedy this sentence and restore confidence in the uniformity and fairness of our criminal justice system.”

Polis’ move came days after a judge scheduled a January hearing to reconsider the sentence at the request of the local district attorney, Alexis King, who had planned to ask that it be reduced to 20 to 30 years.

About 5 million people signed an online petition seeking clemency for Aguilera-Mederos, who was convicted of vehicular homicide and other charges in the explosive 2019 pileup.

Aguilera-Mederos testified that he was hauling lumber when the brakes on his semitrailer failed as he was descending a steep grade of Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountain foothills.

His truck plowed into vehicles that had slowed because of another wreck, setting off a chain-reaction crash and a fireball that consumed vehicles and melted parts of the highway.

Judge Bruce Jones imposed the 110-year sentence on Dec. 13 after finding it was the mandatory minimum term set forth under state law, noting it would not have been his choice.

 

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vern
vern
3 months ago

Ah I love it when a prosecutor wants to punish wrong doers… Yes lets give an accident causing victim 110 years… and let the person that shoots someone or robs a store get out with a ankle monitor. Yes they should try to increase the number of convictions per arrest instead of trying to impose a sentence that if they were the one causing such a tragedy… bad brakes??? I am sure they would sing a different song

Jeff Ryan
Jeff Ryan
3 months ago

I certainly agree that Polis should not have butted in: the court had already set a hearing on the sentencing issue, and the District Attorney’s Office was already asking for some reduction of the sentence. Aguilera-Mederos wasn’t going anywhere, and it is doubtful that resentencing was going to wind up with him being released from custody soon. Polis should have waited. There was no clock running. He would still have had the same options after the hearing.

That said, if Dougherty and Rubinstein, through their deputies, cannot handle the simple task of distinguishing the circumstances of this singular set of facts and law from all the other cases and defendants they are prosecuting, maybe they should find another line of work.

Capitalizing on the sentence in this case to seek a lower sentence for their clients is what defense attorneys do. Their concern is for the best interests of their clients. But that concern can be answered with one word: “No”.

The decision on whether to charge a person with a crime lies with the district attorney. So does the decision as to what sentence to seek. If the defense asks for a lower sentence for their client than a district attorney thinks is appropriate, that district attorney has every right to object. The defense has no right to any particular plea agreemment or sentencing. The final word on that is the court’s, not the attorneys’.

But dealing with defense attorneys is part and parcel of the district attorney’s responsibilities. Don’t whine, guys. Just do your job.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
3 months ago

Maybe the original sentence was a little harsh and should have been looked at, but not reduced to what it was. A criminal sentence should NEVER be based on public opinion or sentiment, but rather, on the facts, circumstances and the law.

This person was able to garner empathy, which affected the sentence. As such, what lesson has been taught and learned?