By Rory Fleming
When working at a sure defunct prison justice reform group at Harvard, I discovered myself reaching juvenile life with out parole sentencing and got here throughout the case of “White Boy” Rick. Rick Wershe was comparatively distinctive amongst youngsters sentenced to die in jail, as he by no means was accused or convicted of homicide. As an alternative, he was a prolific younger drug supplier snubbed by the FBI, regardless of his makes an attempt to cooperate.
I requested a supervisor why we by no means talked about his case and bought a set of awkward responses. He might have unsavory mates or relations, for instance, and in addition to, he isn’t within the class of prisoners most deserving of assist. It didn’t matter that the actual injustice of his sentence was extra pronounced.
I’ve been fascinated with this once more within the aftermath of my Davis Vanguard editorial compounding the viral consideration acquired by the plight of Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, the trucker who crashed after his brakes failed. For an unintentional crash not attributable to intoxicated driving, he initially acquired 110 years in jail. Colorado Governor Jared Polis commuted his sentence to 10 years, with parole eligibility in 5 years. By 2026, Mr. Aguilera-Mederos ought to be a free man. Alexis King, the DA in command of the case, protested the choice, preferring a sentence of 20-30 years as a result of that’s the harshest concrete suggestion she heard from a victim’s family member.
To my shock, there are numerous different circumstances similar to his: unintentional automotive crashes resulting in felony convictions and vastly disproportionate prison sentences. One such case is that of Kenneth McDaniel, who caused an unintentional crash that killed his first spouse and their youngsters. Doug Valeska, the notoriously unethical former District Legal professional in Dothan, Alabama, smeared him as a drunk driver, regardless of him being breathalyzed at a .055 — state regulation considers solely over .08 a DUI. Valeska charged McDaniel below a ordinary offender regulation, resulting from his prior prison report, and the choose issued consecutive sentences for a number of costs.
Listening to the information of Mr. Aguilera-Mederos’ receiving clemency, Virginia McDaniel, his spouse, tweeted “Sure my husband doing 100 years for accident however no person need discuss that I’ll put up it and perhaps one particular person will remark.”
So what makes one case viral and one other irrelevant? McDaniel’s driving conduct on the day of the tragic crash was not spotless, however neither was Aguilera-Mederos’. The latter may have taken an off-ramp to keep away from oncoming site visitors and he was dashing. But each males acquired vastly disproportionate sentences for unintentional murder.
It appears to be a mixture of case details and the identical cynical thought course of that was used to close me down at Harvard. “Nobody will care as a result of he’s white.” “It’s Alabama, nobody will ever scale back his sentence. Moreover, that’s [Just Mercy author] Bryan Stephenson’s territory. And he doesn’t care concerning the case, nobody else will.” I’ve heard these feedback earlier than, too.
Briefly, this type of “justice” is unfair.
And whereas viral outrage can repair unfair leads to particular circumstances, that’s the place it’s usefulness normally ends.
Can we efficiently combat for something extra?
Most likely not with virality, at the very least not alone. The targets of profitable advocacy campaigns are usually particular person circumstances.
But, if 5 million individuals signed a Change.org petition demanding the resignation of DA Alexis King, Aguilera-Mederos’s prosecutor, she would virtually actually resign, and that will have an effect that echoes past a single case. When nationwide media reported on the bizarre punitive bloodlust of former Caddo Parish (Shreveport) District Legal professional Dale Cox, he opted to not run again, which paved the best way for the first Black DA in county history. Whereas King doesn’t appear to sport that very same bloodlust, actually a few of the deputy prosecutors in her office do, and he or she has not fired them even after they confirmed who they’re. Sadly, outrage at all times fades, and accountability turns into much less possible as extra time passes.
Likewise, if 5 million individuals despatched emails to the Colorado state legislature, demanding a change to sentencing legal guidelines to keep away from a case like this ever occurring once more, legislators would virtually actually take heed. Identical with the state bar, by way of lawyer self-discipline.
Ideally, we’d be capable of have a system of justice the place equity doesn’t rely upon selective viral outrage. However that will rely upon legislators being prepared to upset individuals who imagine victims of crimes and tragedies are the identical, and that each teams deserve have-it-your-way justice and the flexibility to find out sentencing harshness. Generally what victims (and prosecutors) demand, particularly instantly after an incident, is not only, however calling that out is never standard. Both method, Kenneth McDaniel deserves simply as a lot of a sentence discount as Rogel Aguilera-Mederos.
Rory is a author and licensed lawyer.