Mandatory Minimums and the Criminal Justice System

Updated on April 16th, 2024 at 06:17 pm

The case of a Colorado truck driver who was sentenced to 110 years in prison has recently brought into the national spotlight the criminal justice issue of mandatory minimums and whether they properly reflect justice when used in criminal sentencing.

What Is A Mandatory Minimum?

A mandatory minimum is a sentence created by Congress or a state legislature that requires the court to give a person convicted of a crime a certain punishment, regardless of the unique circumstances of the offender or the crime. This effectively takes the power of sentencing out of the judge’s hands and places it under the legislative branch’s control.

In October 2019, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos was the driver of a lumber truck on I-70 that caused an incident in which his truck crashed into stopped traffic, killing four and injuring at least ten. District Attorney Alexis King and the prosecution argued that he could have used one of several runaway truck ramps off I-70 and that he dangerously weaved between vehicles.

Aguilera-Mederos contends that he lost control of his vehicle when the brakes failed and that he never meant to hurt anyone. In October 2021, the jury found him guilty on counts of vehicular homicide, first-degree assault, attempted first-degree assault, and several driving-related misdemeanors.

Due to the required jail time per charge according to Colorado sentencing statutes, District Court Judge Bruce Jones had no choice but to sentence Aguilera-Mederos to 110 years in prison. Judge Jones spoke about his inability under Colorado criminal law to affect the sentence: “I will state that if I had discretion, [this] would not be my sentence.” Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced in December 2021, which resulted in citizens and criminal justice advocates across the country advocating for Governor Jared Polis to grant clemency.

Clemency is the process through which the Governor can either pardon a crime, which relieves legal consequences from a conviction or commute a sentence, which reduces the sentence length.

On December 30, 2021, Governor Polis commuted Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence to 10 years with the possibility of parole in 5 years for a tragic but unintentional act. In his reasoning, he indicated that while he was not blameless, the sentence was disproportionate to inmates who commit intentional, premeditated, or violent crimes.

The issue of mandatory minimum sentencing affects citizens throughout the country. Mandatory minimums were first established in 1984 under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act in a nationwide effort to create uniform sentencing guidelines and be tough on crime.

Due to issues such as excessive sentences and an increase in prison population, there continues to be an effort to repeal these statutes both in the state and federal systems.

Mandatory Minimums in DC

In Washington, D.C., criminal offenses that result in mandatory minimum sentences include:

  • first-degree murder (30 years)
  • armed carjacking (15 years)
  • carjacking (7 years)
  • felon in possession of a firearm (1 year for the first offense, 3 years for subsequent convictions)
  • crimes of violence while armed with a firearm (5 years for the first conviction and 10 years for subsequent convictions)

If convicted by a jury of these crimes, these are the sentences that one would be forced to face regardless of any factors or circumstances that led to the crime.

Mandatory minimums play a significant role in the current criminal sentencing system because judges have no discretion when completing the sentencing process and must follow mandatory sentencing statutes under certain convictions.

It’s important to have an experienced attorney explain the review of potential exposure and risk regarding mandatory minimums as it applies to your case. Contact our criminal defense attorneys in DC and Maryland for a consultation,

Call Now Button