A 10 Year Sentence for Four Deaths

The Math Isn’t Adding Up

Rogel+Aguilera-Mederos+was+originally+sentenced+to+110+years+in+jail+after+a+traumatic+truck+accident+which+left+four+people+dead.

Rodrigo Abreu/CC BY 2.0

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos was originally sentenced to 110 years in jail after a traumatic truck accident which left four people dead.

By Saisree Kumar, Boulder High School

In 2019, 26-year old Rogel Aguilera-Mederos was speeding at 85 mph in a 45 mph commercial vehicle speed zone on Interstate 70 when his truck slammed into traffic after the brakes allegedly failed, killing four people. On December 13th, 2021, he was charged with four counts of vehicular homicide, six counts of first-degree assault, 10 counts of attempted first-degree assault, four counts of careless driving causing death, two counts of vehicular assault, and one count of reckless driving. When calculated, he was sentenced to 110 years in prison. 

When it was announced, many opposed this bizarre sentence; a nationwide petition was created to reduce it. The petition garnered over 5 million signatures and celebrity recognition on Twitter, so a Jefferson County judge granted a reconsideration hearing for Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence. After the petition, Governor Jared Polis released the improved ten-year sentence on December 30th. Although Rogel Aguilera-Mederos’s initial 110-year sentence was unreasonable, his improved 10-year sentence is too short. Mederos should have been sentenced to 20 years for his crimes. 

In most cases, a 110-year sentence does not drastically reduce by 100 years due to the assigned penalty of each charge. The original sentence was unreasonable because the defendant denied intending to cause harm and claimed his brakes failed, which should erase his six counts of first-degree assault and ten counts of attempted first-degree assault, reducing the sentence to about 60 years. But 10-years does not make up for four deaths and conditions the driver could control, like his speed. Mederos’ four counts of vehicular homicide would result in at most a 24-year sentence (disregarding his other charges). Not to mention that his 10 years in prison can easily result in being just five years. Five years does not pay for a life lost- let alone four. To the victims’ families, this ruling is unjust. Quotes from the victim families in the Denver Post revealed that they thought the sentence should’ve been around 20-30 years. 

The drastic reduction is concerning because social media had a massive impact on a homicide case, almost acting as the 13th juror. Duane Bailey, victim Bill Bailey’s brother, commented on this, saying, “And are we going to allow the political pressure and social media to start defining our judicial systems? I think that’s an extremely dangerous precedent set.” His worries could not be more valid. While social media is a quick-paced platform to get news, it also makes jumping to conclusions quicker, and it isn’t a reliable source most seem to forget. A post on Instagram, for example, may give you information about a current injustice going on in the world. Still, the post would be biased in one form or another, forcing you to take a side, assuming it’s your position subconsciously. Not to mention that on a site like Change.org, you have the opportunity to sign petitions with one click going off of only the title. 

Many considered Aguilera-Mederos’ age and nothing else when they signed the petition. People did not bother to find out that while he had no intention to hurt people, he made a series of reckless decisions before the fatal accident. People who did not know all the facts signed a petition taken into consideration by the court. Most “jurors” involved in this case were not given the points but simply an emotional appeal. 

We live in a world where people take seconds to pass a judgment. If social media is a factor in future verdicts, we will be passing permanent judgments with split-second decisions. 

The legal system can use reformation, but it’s hard to say whether social media playing a role is the best way to reform because it’s not. There’s a reason our jury consists of 12 members. While people should have power, they shouldn’t have so much that it threatens the very structure of the court. Aguilera-Mederos’ incredibly reduced sentence is only a foreshadowing of what’s to come for our legal system.

This story was originally published on The Owl on January 27, 2022.