« New BJS reports on "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2020" and "Profile of Prison Inmates, 2016" | Main | Sixth Circuit reversal of denial of compassionate release shows how appellate review can sometimes reduce sentencing disparities »

December 17, 2021

Another crazy long sentence resulting from crazy crude mandatory minimums after deadly accident in Colorado

A very sad case turned into a very extreme sentence for a truck driver in Colorado earlier this week.  This lengthy local story, headlined "Driver gets 110 years in fiery I-70 crash that killed 4," provides lots of the details and videos from the sentencing.  Here are the basics:

The man convicted after a crash on Interstate 70 that left four people dead was sentenced to 110 years in prison Monday afternoon.

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos was 23 when his semi-truck slammed into stopped traffic on the interstate near Denver West Parkway on April 25, 2019.  Four people died instantly from the impact: Doyle Harrison, William Bailey, Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano and Stanley Politano. It is believed they all died from injuries and not the resulting fire.

Aguilera-Mederos was found guilty by a jury on 27 counts in total.  The most serious charges were four counts of vehicular manslaughter.  Other counts he was found guilty of included first-degree assault, first-degree attempt to commit assault, vehicular assault, reckless driving and careless driving. He was found not guilty on 15 counts of first-degree attempt to commit assault.

Judge A. Bruce Jones sentenced Aguilera-Mederos to the required 10-year minimum for each of the six counts of first-degree assault with extreme indifference, to be served consecutively.  He was also sentenced to the required minimum of five years for 10 additional counts of attempted first-degree assault with extreme indifference.  Those will be served consecutively as well.

The judge said the legislature required him to order those sentences be served consecutively, which was why, he said, he issued the minimum sentence for those charges.  However, he did say he may have sentenced Aguilera-Mederos to more than the minimum, if not required to issue the sentences consecutively.

"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."

In addition to the 110 years stemming from those charges, Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced to 30 years for 11 other charges that will be served concurrently.

Aguilera-Mederos was extremely emotional as he asked for forgiveness before Jones announced the sentence. "I know it has been hard and heartbreaking for everyone involved," he said though tears. "I can't sleep, I think all the time about the victims. A part of me will be missing forever, as well." Aguilera-Mederos said he took responsibility for the crash, and said it was not intentional. "I have never thought about hurting anyone in my entire life," he said....

The judge said his hands were tied when it came to sentencing, because Colorado's violent crime statute is specific. 9NEWS Legal Expert Scott Robinson said certain violent crimes require a minimum sentence for each victim, and they have to run consecutively. But he said there is one way for violent crime sentences to be reduced.

"Colorado's violent crimes statute gives judges some discretion after 180 days have passed," Robinson said. "Here, the sentencing judge, Bruce Jones, will have an opportunity to determine whether there were unusual and extenuating circumstances which would justify a reduction in the sentences imposed." The judge said he could not assure the courtroom this would be the end of this process, giving an indication that he may consider a motion like that.

The jury had to decide whether the crash resulted from a series of bad choices by the driver or a mechanical failure that the driver had no control over. Aguilera-Mederos faced 42 counts in all. He testified for hours and tearfully recounted publicly for the first time his version of what happened on that day.

Both sides agreed that his truck lost brakes at some point, but they disagreed on how or why that happened.... After the brakes were out, prosecutors argued that Aguilera-Mederos made a series of bad choices that resulted in the crash. One of them being his failure to use a runaway truck ramp on the highway.

I do not know the particulars of Colorado sentencing law, but I sure hope there is a mechanism for the reconsideration of this crazy extreme sentence before too long. But the very possibility that an awful accident can lead to an initial mandated sentence of 100+ years suggest to me that some reform of Colorado sentencing law is still needed.

Here is some other notable recent coverage of this case:

"Trucker’s 110-year sentence in fatal I-70 crash spotlights Colorado sentencing laws, prosecutors’ charging decisions"

"He Was Sentenced To 110 Years in Prison for Causing a Fatal Traffic Accident. The Judge Isn't Happy About It."

"Truck Driver Sentenced 110 Years For Deadly Crash Stemming From Brake Failure Even Though Everyone Agrees It's Unreasonable"

December 17, 2021 at 09:42 AM | Permalink



Yes, this looks like a nasty trial penalty case. I don’t feel that justice was done here.

But the article I link shows another problem with prosecutors.

Posted by: Federalist | Dec 17, 2021 11:23:10 AM

I'm in the "get rid of 'accident'" camp, most such have human agency somewhere in the mix (this case certainly did). If it's not having a tree fall over onto your vehicle (which I've actually experienced) or the like then it's not an 'accident', it's a 'collision'.

This guy may not have had the agency that someone who chooses to plow into a parade does but he is certainly not blameless.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 17, 2021 11:54:17 AM


Are you defending this sentence? It seems insane. What possible good will it do anyone to lock up this guy for the rest of his life? Our society seems incapable of dealing rationally with these situations. There seems to be an inherent false belief that a vicious sentence will some how bring "justice" for the victims. The victims here are a sunk cost, and they are not coming back. Why ruin this guy's life too, when he lacked intent. It makes absolutely no sense. Why does this country in particular have such a problem dealing with this situations? I suspect it is the vindictive and brain dead victims' lobby having too much power. Does anyone thing this is a good result?

Mike Pizzinoli.

Posted by: Mike | Dec 17, 2021 12:53:13 PM

Mike ,

Personally, I would prefer that he be executed. Locking him in prison for the rest of his life is a second-best alternative.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 17, 2021 1:06:50 PM


You appear to be an unserious moron who can't respond to legitimate inquiries. Have you no decency?

Posted by: Mike | Dec 17, 2021 1:20:22 PM


I simply advocate for any offense more serious than the theft of a couple hundred dollars having execution as the presumptive sentence, that after conviction it should be up to the offender to plead why they, for particularized compelling reasons, should be spared. I don't claim to either have or lack decency, the concept just does not have any place in my thoughts.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 17, 2021 1:51:58 PM

"The victims here are a sunk cost..."

One of the reasons it's worthwhile reading the comments section is that, every now and again, the defense side is wonderfully honest and blunt.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2021 3:45:23 PM

Bill you are spot on—as usual!

Posted by: Federalist | Dec 17, 2021 4:15:29 PM

Federalist --

Thanks. When our adversaries inadvertently display what's in their "compassionate" hearts, we should take note.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 17, 2021 11:25:28 PM

An interesting note: one of the jurors on the case was Heidi Bond, former 9th Cir.and SCOTUS clerk (for O'Connor). She tweeted after the sentence that if she had known about the mandatory minimums, she would have voted to nullify.

Posted by: JPD | Dec 18, 2021 7:34:45 AM

JPD --

Some questions: If one of the jurors in the Jan 6 riot cases believes that the election was indeed "stolen," should that juror feel free to vote to nullify? If a juror in an underage rape case with a 14 year-old victim believes the age of consent should be 12 instead of 16 (as in the current law of his state), should he feel free to vote to nullify? If a juror in a bank robbery case feels that the banking system has been ripping off minorities for years and in general has been cruel and oppressive, should he feel free to vote to nullify?

In other words, how far does this doctrine extend, under what reasoning, and how does it square with majority rule and the rule of law?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 18, 2021 10:36:19 AM

As unreasonable as the 110 year sentence may initially appear, this case may yet get worked out and become reasonable under Colorado's sentencing provision, which provides that trial Judges may revisit the sentence and adjust or reduce it 180 days after the initial sentencing occurs. So, before you pass judgment on the 110 year sentence, let the Colorado process work its way out and see what the final result is. We have a similar provision in Kentucky criminal law, referred to as "shock probation". A defendant may initially receive a long sentence, say 10 years, but then 60 days later, upon the filing of a Motion by the defendant, the Judge may "shock" the defendant out to the streets, with the balance of the sentence probated.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Dec 19, 2021 12:33:46 PM

Typical inane Bill Otis comment. He just assumes it is not compassionate to avoid making the logical error that a extraordinarily harsh sentence will somehow restore the victim and does not attempt to undermine the reason. The suggestikn seems to be that it is somehow beyond the pale to make this point, but again no explanation why.

And, no Bill, I am not a member of the criminal defense bar. Just a guy who objects to miscarriages of justice.

For those who don’t know, Bill is Donald Trump’s failed nominee for the Sentencing Commission, who failed to advance because of his extreme views. Bill has been accused of being a racist, and is a fringe player in criminal justice discourse.

Posted by: Mike | Dec 19, 2021 4:20:24 PM

Mike --

"Typical inane Bill Otis comment. He just assumes it is not compassionate to avoid making the logical error that a extraordinarily harsh sentence will somehow restore the victim..."

Actually, I said zero about the sentence. Reading the comment helps! But if a point be made of it, NOTHING restores a homicide victim.

"And, no Bill, I am not a member of the criminal defense bar. Just a guy who objects to miscarriages of justice."

I never said you're a member of the defense bar. I don't know who you are, since, unlike many other commenters, and our host, you choose to be anonymous. Why is that?

"For those who don’t know, Bill is Donald Trump’s failed nominee for the Sentencing Commission..."

Correct. Like all three other nominees on the same slate, Judge Pryor(R), Judge Restrepo(D), and Judge Hudson(R), I did not get to the floor for a vote. I thus join my friend Miguel Estrada and (you might have heard of him) Merrick Garland.

For how many positions have you been a Presidential nominee, Mr. Mike?

"...who failed to advance because of his extreme views."

To some ways of thinking, anyone who supports the death penalty (e.g., Bill Clinton, Barack Obama), and views incarceration as just punishment rather than a racist pogrom, is guilty of "extreme views." Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Still, if you could quote a single Democratic senator who spoke against my nomination, I'd be curious to see it. Should I wait?

"Bill has been accused of being a racist, and is a fringe player in criminal justice discourse."

It would be tiresome at this late date to go into what a weary and sleazy stunt it is to say that someone "has been accused of being a racist," so I won't even bother. I will admit to being exactly as much of a racist as, say, Jason Riley or Glenn Loury or Walter Williams, so have at it.

As for "fringe player": I've had various stuff published in the NYT, the WaPo, USA Today, Forbes, USN&WR, the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy and have done appearances on CNN, PBS, Piers Morgan (with Alan Dershowitz), Fox News, and this or that. I'm now an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law. Whether this makes me a "fringe player" is, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder. Not something I spend a lot of time worrying about.

One thing I have not done, however, is dismiss mangled homicide victims as a "sunk cost," to use your exact, remarkably callous wording.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 19, 2021 6:58:26 PM


I did not take a position on Ms. Bond's comment, I simply reported it. In response to your questions, though, absent any proof of juror misconduct, I don't believe any of those would be a basis for disturbing a jury's verdict. It is interesting, then, that we would entrust jurors with the ability to absolve a defendant based on their belief that the crime should not be a crime, or that the victim is bad, or even that they just like the defendant personally, but not on their belief that the punishment is inordinate under the circumstances of the case. If the fundamental principle is that the jury should be a check on the power of the sovereign, it is odd to me that this would be limited in that way. I could certainly see an argument for a system as you seem to propose where a juror's choice to nullify based on extralegal reasons is itself sufficient for a mistrial or something like that, but that isn't the case under the law as I understand it.

Posted by: JPD | Dec 29, 2021 9:57:19 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB