Chris D. Hefty
You Have the Right to Remain Silent – Criminal Defense Post-Confession
A recent video posted on YouTube shows a young man confessing to a hit-and-run fatality caused by, in his own words, a night of heavy drinking followed by driving home impaired (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/06/dui-video-confession/2775585/)
He goes on to identify himself as twenty-two-year-old Matthew Cordle. Cordle then gives the name of the man he hit, Vincent Canzani, a sixty-one-year-old veteran who perished at the site of the head-on collision. Cordle discloses a bit of intriguing information: as of the date of filming, he had not yet been charged with any crime.
Following the video’s airing, the prosecutor for the county investigating the incident convened a grand jury to hear evidence—including the recorded confession—against Cordle. On September 9, 2013, the grand jury officially charged Cordle with aggravated vehicular manslaughter, a crime that holds a penalty of up to eight years in prison (http://reut.rs/18PvnOZ).
He has since pleaded guilty to the charge and awaits sentencing in October.
The video raises several questions. Was Cordle telling the truth? What were his intentions in making a taped confession? Was he, as the daughter of the victim believes, seeking leniency following formally being charged?
The video production team, a project called “Because I Said I Would,” encourages accountability from its participants and touts the tagline “A promise made. A promise kept.” The project is open to requests made by people seeking accountability, suggesting that Cordle’s intentions were to turn himself in to authorities and follow through with the penalties. In the video, he also pleads with the public to never drink and drive.
Now, Cordle’s own words have been and will be used by the state to prove the case against him. His defense attorney may have otherwise attempted to present evidence that witnesses against his client are unreliable or untrustworthy, but he probably won’t do that in this case. The prosecution’s star witness is the defendant himself.
Contrary to some stereotypes, a criminal defense attorney’s job does not involve twisting the truth or making up excuses to avoid responsibility. A criminal defense attorney works to present the strongest defense to the state’s case against a person charged with a crime. In doing so, the attorney preserves every person’s–and especially the defendant’s— the constitutional right to a fair and impartial hearing.
If a person suspected of committing a crime confesses but also says that he blacked out during the crime (as Cordle said in the video), then a defense attorney may raise these inconsistencies. The attorney does so not as a way of limiting responsibility but as a way of maintaining the balance between the rights of the accused and the power of the state.