Thursday, December 23, 2021

There Will Be Two Legal Systems

Source: "Who Is Rogel Aguilera-Mederos? Truck Driver Sentenced
To 110 Years For Deadly Crash On I-70
"--Denver CBS Local

The news today seems to be dominated by articles concerning a 110 year sentence handed down to a truck driver, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, who was involved in a fiery crash that killed 4 completely innocent people: Stanley Politano, 69, William Bailey, 67, Doyle Harrison, 61, and Miguel Angel Lamas Arellano, 24.

    This wasn't your typical auto accident due to simple negligence. Aguilera-Mederos was driving an 18-wheeler apparently with inoperative and/or defective brakes, down a steep slope, dangerously weaved between vehicles, while driving past several runaway truck ramps which he didn't use, before crashing into vehicles, killing four and injuring others. The crash damaged or destroyed 28 vehicles

On Oct. 15, a jury convicted Aguilera-Mederos, on many of the 42 counts he faced, including vehicular homicide, first-degree assault, attempted first-degree assault, reckless driving and careless driving. On Dec. 13, Judge A. Bruce Jones sentenced him to 110 years in prison, which is the minimum allowed by Colorado’s minimum sentencing laws pertaining to the specific charges of which he was convicted.

I've seen these types of crashes before. One really bad one involved a trucker that had, as best I can remember at this point, only 4 or 5 wheels with operative breaks on the entire rig: tractor and trailer. He was hauling a load of gravel. He started braking over 1 mile from the site of the crash, but still struck an RV with enough force to push it into a canal, drowning an elderly couple inside. The husband had only retired two days earlier, and the trip to Idaho had been to celebrate his retirement. Another involved a collision with a school bus that killed one of the kids on board. In the latter case, less than half of the brakes on the truck were operative (and the truck driver was under the influence of marijuana).

    The braking issues are the result of the owner/operator trying to save money by not maintaining brakes (and generally a lot of other problems as well). Aguilera-Mederos was required to check his brakes frequently, so there was no excuse for his not knowing the condition of his brakes. The fact that Aguilera-Mederos skipped a runaway truck ramp supports my supposition that the whole incident was due to him deciding to save money since running your truck into such an escape ramp can be an expensive proposition. Even if you are not charged for having to use the ramp, there is the cost of towing the trailer and tractor out of the escape ramp. 

    (If you are not familiar with such ramps, they are located on the side of a highway or similar where the slope of the road is long and/or steep enough that a truck might burn out its brakes on the descent; the ramp is typically covered with several feet of loose gravel or sand designed to catch and slow down a semi-truck rig--see the video below which describes the ramp that Aguilera-Mederos passed by without using).

    In short, Aguilera-Mederos is not an innocent caught up in a bad situation. Those people died because Aguilera-Mederos was greedy, not because he made a mistake or had a sudden and unexpected mechanical failure. 

    But there are a lot of people upset over the 110 year sentence. The judge presiding over the case has stated that he didn't have discretion under mandatory sentencing laws to do anything but order the defendant to serve his sentences consecutively. Mandatory sentencing laws were enacted to prevent soft-on-crime judges from giving criminals the proverbial slap on the hand. If the judge had been given discretion, it is likely that the sentence would have been a lot shorter--probably 20 years with the possibility of parole after half of that. 

     But people aren't attacking the mandatory sentencing laws, but the specific sentence given to this one man, with a petition that has garnered millions of signatures seeking for the governor to intervene to commute the sentence or even pardon Aguilera-Mederos. The petition statement reads, in part:

Rogel is not a criminal, the company he was working for knew the federal laws that go into truck driving but they failed to follow those laws. Rogel has said several times that he wishes he had the courage to crash and take his own life that day, this tragic accident wasn’t done with Intent, it wasnt a criminal act, it was an accident. Since he has been sentenced, i have changed this to granting Rogel clemency or commutation-as time served. 

    I wouldn't have even bothered writing this post except for the effort to basically let Aguilera-Mederos walk. One of the organizations behind the petition is the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a Hispanic civil rights organization. One article reports:

    Domingo GarcĂ­a, the national representative of LULAC, said the civil rights group had sent a letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis on behalf of Aguilera Mederos asking for an amnesty or a reduction in the sentence.

    “It was a terrible false charge,” Garcia said.

    The online petition has won millions of signatures urging police to amnesty.

    “When it was clearly an accident, he was put in jail for 110 years for his first crime,” Garcia said. “It can happen to anyone. Your break [sic] disappears. It wasn’t intentional. That’s not what he was trying to do.”

LULAC has met with Colorado's governor to discuss clemency or a pardon, while also organizing a protest over the sentence. The call for clemency wants the sentence reduced to time served

Another view of the crash scene. Source: "Millions sign petition to change 110 year sentence of trucker who caused deadly 28-car pileup"--East Bay Times.

    Here's the problem. First, LULAC's characterization of the incident as a simple accident caused by brake failure was obviously rejected by the jury. The jury basically would have had to find that Aguilera-Mederos knew about the condition of his brakes and nevertheless drove anyway while disregarding the risk of serious injury or death that it posed. Sort of the equivalent of skipping down a street with a loaded gun in hand, round chambered, and finger on the trigger, singing "la, la, la ...". 

    The statement that Aguilera-Mederos wishes that he'd had the courage to crash and take his own life instead of letting the collision occur is laughable because he passed at least one runaway truck ramp where he could have "crashed" without anyone, including Aguilera-Mederos, having to be injured.

    Second, and the whole reason I even bothered with this post, is that the petition, the intervention of LULAC, isn't because the organizers think there was a miscarriage of justice or that the mandatory sentencing laws are unfair, but because it involves a person of color (POC). LULAC's  statement included this comment: "Rogel is facing this fate because our courts have historically treated blacks and Latinos more harshly than whites. He represents the ‘other .’" If it had been a mistake of law, LULAC would have raised money for an appeal and let the state appellate courts decide the matter. But they want this guy to skate because he is Latino.

    This is how you end up with two legal systems. One for whites, and one for POC who everyone is afraid to offend because it will result in lots of media attention, petitions, protests, or worse.

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