Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis ended 2021 using his executive power to provide some mercy, commuting the controversial 110-year prison sentence of a trucker who killed four in a crash and pardoning more than 1,300 Coloradans with marijuana convictions.
Rogel Aguilera-Mederos became a national news story in December when a judge sentenced him to 110 years in prison as punishment when the brakes of his truck failed and he killed four people in a highway crash. The brake failure was partly a result of some poor decisions on Aguilera-Mederos' part. Nevertheless, it certainly wasn't his intent to kill anybody.
The reason he received a sentence similar to what a murderer would get was because he insisted on a right to a trial, and the prosecutor essentially punished him for it by throwing 42 charges at him. He was ultimately convicted of 27 charges and his harsh sentence was a result of all of the mandatory minimums attached. Judge A. Bruce Jones said at the time he did not want to levy such a harsh sentence but had little say in the matter.
Subsequently First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King, who was responsible for filing all these charges against Aguilera-Mederos, started looking to have his sentence reduced. The trucker also submitted an application to have his sentence commuted, and on Thursday Polis agreed, reducing his sentence to 10 years in prison. In his commutation letter, Polis writes:
The length of your 110-year sentence is simply not commensurate with your actions, nor with penalties handed down to others for similar crimes. There is an urgency to remedy this unjust sentence and restore confidence in the uniformity and fairness of our criminal justice system, and consequently I have chosen to commute your sentence now. At the end of the day, this arbitrary and unjust sentence was the result of a law of Colorado passed by the legislature and signed by a prior Governor and is not the fault of the judge who handed down the mandatory sentence required by the law in this case. As such, it falls on me to take action to ensure that justice is served in this case, and I am doing so today with this limited commutation.
As for the mass marijuana pardons, in 2020, Colorado's legislature passed a bill that streamlined the pardon process for some convictions. State law normally requires a lengthy, individualized process for each pardon. H.B. 20-1424 grants the governor the power to provide mass pardons to those convicted of possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana without having to deal with the whole process.
On Thursday, Polis announced that 1,351 such pardons. In a prepared statement he noted how these drug war convictions had deprived citizens of any number of rights:
Adults can legally possess marijuana in Colorado, just as they can beer or wine. It's unfair that 1,351 additional Coloradans had permanent blemishes on their record that interfered with employment, credit, and gun ownership, but today we have fixed that by pardoning their possession of small amounts of marijuana that occurred during the failed prohibition era.