Minimum sentences can be avoided in Colorado, but not initially

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — The Rogel Aguilera-Mederos case will get another look in court and by Gov. Jared Polis.

The 26-year-old sentenced to 110 years in prison in a deadly Interstate 70 crash was portrayed in his trial as an inexperienced truck driver.

Aguilera-Mederos said his brakes failed in the mountains. He sped into a traffic jam on Interstate 70 in Lakewood, killing four people and injuring at least 10 others.

Polis has the power to commute the 110-year sentence. Polis can also pardon Aguilera-Mederos, freeing him immediately and relieving him of most burdens associated with a conviction. A pardon does not officially take away a conviction record.

Gubernatorial action may not play out at all. The First Judicial District Attorney has been granted a hearing to re-examine the sentence and said she will recommend 20-30 years. That process could free the governor from pressure to act.

“The thing that confuses me is, if [prosecutors] believe that this sentence was inappropriate, which I certainly think it is, I don’t understand why they prosecuted on 40 different charges knowing what the laws are in Colorado,” said Ian Farrell, associate professor at University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Farrell said the judge’s hands were tied, initially forcing the 110-year sentence because of Colorado minimum sentencing laws. But it is possible for minimum sentences to be avoided.

“A judge is allowed to depart from the minimum sentence requirements on a petition for rehearing about the sentencing,” Farrell said.

But what is an appropriate sentence? Farrell pointed out that four of Aguilera-Mederos’ charges were for vehicular homicide.

“I think that would come to about 18 years,” Farrell said. “Now I’m not saying I think that is an appropriate punishment. I think, personally, that Colorado sentencing laws are far harsher than they ought to be.”

The minimum requirements give prosecutors a lot of leverage when bargaining in attempt to push a defendant to plead guilty.

“Those sentences are used as leverage to force a defendant to give up their constitutional rights to trial by jury,” Farrell said.

The governor said on Wednesday he will need 14 days to consider the clemency request. As of Thursday, more than 4.8 million people had signed the Change.org clemency petition.

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