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Confessed DUI Driver Does Not Put in a Plea in Court

Posted on September 13, 2013

The Ohio man who confessed in an online video to driving drunk and causing a fatal wrong-way crash is “riddled with guilt” and, despite an initial not-guilty plea, is preparing to plead guilty in the case, his lawyer tells CBS News’ Crimesider.

English: Sample image of Ohio's DUI license pl...

English: Sample image of Ohio’s DUI license plate, issued to all DUI offenders with limited driving rights in the state. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the three-minute video posted last week, 22-year-old Matthew Cordle admitted he caused the June 22 crash that killed Vincent Canzani, 61, of suburban Columbus. In the video, Cordle said he “made a mistake” when he got into his truck that night, “completely blacked out,” and drove the wrong way into oncoming traffic.

Police in June said Canzani died at the scene after his Jeep was struck on Interstate 670.

During a Wednesday afternoon arraignment, bond was set at $255,000 for Cordle, who appeared in court in a light brown prison jumpsuit and entered a plea of not guilty. The not-guilty plea is a “technicality” that is required in order for him to be assigned to a random judge, according to his lawyer George S. Breitmayer III.

“When I get charged I’ll plead guilty and take full responsibility for everything I’ve done to Vincent and his family,” Cordle says in the video. He also begs viewers not to drink and drive.

Cordle turned himself in Monday after being charged with aggravated vehicular homicide.

He is expected to enter a guilty plea before the new judge on Sept. 18. Cordle’s attorneys haven’t yet decided whether they will seek his release on bond.

As the media spotlight intensifies, Breitmayer says messages of support for Cordle have been “flooding” in to his office.

“I’ve never had a case like this in my life,” says Breitmayer.

While people admitting to crimes unintentionally on social media is relatively common, the use of social media networking sites to confess to very serious crimes is somewhat new, says Lauri Stevens, a social media consultant to law enforcement.

In another high-profile case, a Florida man, Derek Medina, is accused of killing his wife and posting a photo of her body along with a confession on Facebook.

According to Stevens, the reach and breadth of social media can allow a defendant to shape their side of the story before their case ever heads to a courtroom.

“Because they have this opportunity to tell their story and do it in the way they want it told, I think we’re going to see more of it,” says Stevens. “They control the message, and social media allows them to do it.”

Some have argued that Cordle’s video may be an attempt to affect his sentence by demonstrating to the court that’s he is taking responsibility for the crime.

In many jurisdictions, courts recognize early admissions of wrongdoing as a “mitigating factor” that could contribute to a lighter sentence, says David LaBahn, CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

LaBahn worries that the widespread support for a man who admits to causing another’s death minimizes the “true victim” in the case: Canzani.

“The sadness with DUI is it’s a preventable crime, and yet he chose not to prevent it,” says LaBahn.

Breitmayer blasted the notion that the video is self-serving. He told Crimesider that Cordle posted the video against his legal advice, which amounts to “clear evidence” that the video is an attempt to apologize to his victim’s family and urge others not to make the same mistakes.

“This had nothing to do with any legal play and any, for lack of a better word, shenanigans with the legal system,” Breitmayer said. “He was riddled with guilt and wanted to make something positive come out of the tragic loss of Mr. Canzani and he’s effectively doing it – he’s got people talking and got the message out.”

In the video, Cordle’s face initially appears blurred before the camera. Later, his face clears. He says that he’s willing to accept his sentence in order to pass on his message against drinking and driving.

He faces up to eight years in prison.

“You can still be saved,” he says. “Your victims can still be saved.”

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