The Case of Rogel Lazaro: The Reform for Colorado’s Sentencing Laws
On April 29, 2019, the brakes of 26 year-old truck driver Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Medero failed to stop the semi-truck causing the death of 4 people. He went to trial on October and on December 13, 2021, he was sentenced to 110 years in prison, which according to the judge, was the minimum required by the law. Petitions have been created in calling out for the sentence being excessive. Today, we are going to review the legality of the case to determine what made the Colorado District Judge A. Bryce Jones. According to Jones, Colorado law makes it mandatory to charge the minimum time in prison for each conviction, Rogel Lazaro was found guilty on 27 counts, which totaled to 110 years in prison.
Some of the counts Lazaro was convicted of were first degree assault and attempted first degree assault, which under Colorado law are considered “acts of violence,” therefore, when it comes to sentencing, they must run consecutively, especially since these charges all stemmed from the same accident on Interstate 70. The outcry from the public caused a petition for the case to be reopened, with over 5 million signatures as well as highlighting reform for Colorado’s sentencing laws. People have also argued that the prosecutors put in charge, should also be more heavily considered, since they are the ones who decide who and how much time is being spent in jail. The trial against Rogel Lazaro claimed that Lazaro did not put in as much effort to stop the incident which killed four people, injured a dozen others and caused a fire. Lazaro tried to stop at a ramp, but could not do so because there was already another semi-truck on the ramp.
Rogel’s defense argues that Lazaro tried to avoid crashing into cars and trying to navigate on the road with his already broken brakes. Many of the family members who lost their loved ones in the crash wanted Lazaro to serve a sentence, but not for life and they also sent their forgiveness. The defense made sure to clarify that Rogel Lazaro has no criminal record, passed all his drug and alcohol tests and complied with all the requests as well that Lazaro claimed he was responsible for the incident, although it was not on purpose. His lawyers also claimed that instead of pointing the blame to Lazaro, that the trucking company he worked for should be held accountable, given the fact that they have had mechanical violations since 2017. The company has been identified by local and national news outlets as Castellano 03 Trucking LLC.
Investigations have also discovered that within a two year time span, out of the 30 mechanical violations they have received, 19 have been from their brakes. The district attorney's office claimed to have given Lazaro many plea bargains. While others believe the offers were to put pressure on Lazaro to plead guilty, so as no to take his case to trial, others, like former district attorney, George Brauchler, say that the plea bargains, which have not been disclosed, were reasonable, and that since Lazaro did not take them, he should have expected for the worse to come in court. Rogel Lazaro’s lawyer, James Colgan said that Lazaro would be able to receive the minimum sentence of 20 years in prison, but like mentioned previously, Colorado Law requires that each sentence be given consecutively.
The popularity of the case has reached the governor’s office, and a group of truckers are showing their support by boycotting routes from Colorado. The national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Domingo Garcia, has sent a letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis, requesting a pardon or a reduced sentence for Lazaro. The harsh sentencing in Colorado has roots in the 1990’s, and were initiated after conservative judges were claimed to give out lighter sentences, their current legal system, now giving lots of power to the district attorneys. It also said that the sentence also depended on the defendant and the bias of the prosecutor, which can make it very difficult for the judge to give sentences which ought to fit the case and defendant.
The state has been criticized for the harshness of its sentencing, and are currently working towards reform, but in terms of felony charges, reform is set to start next year. So far, Lazaro will not be eligible for parole anytime soon since Colorado Law requires you to have served 75% - 80% of your sentence, which approximates to 82 years in which Lazaro will be in his mid seventies to eighties. Aguila-Medero’s sentence can be sentenced within 91 days after being convicted, but that must be processed by the state, where the state must find extreme circumstances to shorten the sentence. Most recently, Lazaro has been approved for another hearing on his excessive 110 year sentence. This has been made possible by Jefferson County District Attorney Alexis King filed formal requests to have Lazaro’s case reconsidered.
Many people are glad to hear the news that justice might soon be attainable, with many others arguing that Lazaro deserves a shorter sentence not only because the conviction was fault because of the failing brakes of his semi-truck, but also because convicted murderers, just to clarify, those with intention to kill, have received less time. While it was a great advantage to have the pubic and celebrity names pressure the courts to allow the pass for clemency, it should not be the requirement for the government to sit down and thoroughly take a look at its failed justice system.
More news also states that Rogel Lazaro has a new lawyer, Leonard Martinez, who understands that although this case is for Rogel Lazaro, it represents all the people who have been harshly convicted due to the injustice of the Colorado justice system. While it has been proven that when the people call for justice, it does not fail, it is not consistent with most major movements. Rogel Lazaro Aguilar-Medero caused an accident that took four lives, no one questions that he needs jail time, but hopefully, with more incoming news, we hear not only a shorter sentence for Lazaro, but a major reform to Colorado’s sentencing laws.