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October 16, 2013

As we consider unintentional homicides, consider how different jurisdictions could handle Matthew Cordle differently

In class we are about to transition from intentional to unintentional homicides, and there is a very high-profile unintentional homicide case soon to reach sentencing in Ohio.  This new Columbus Dispatch article, headlined "Sentencing for Matthew Cordle delayed a week," reviews the basics:

Matthew Cordle must wait another week to learn whether his video confession to killing a Gahanna man in a drunken-driving crash carries any weight with a judge. Cordle, 22, of Powell, was to learn his fate today, but his sentencing has been delayed a week, to next Wednesday, the Franklin County prosecutor’s office announced yesterday.

Cordle faces a prison sentence of as few as two years and as many as 8.5 for aggravated vehicular homicide and driving while intoxicated when he is sentenced by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David Fais.

A pre-sentence investigation was completed Friday. But both prosecutors and Cordle’s attorneys are submitting additional information to Fais, who needs time to review the material, the prosecutor’s office said.

Cordle pleaded guilty on Sept. 18 to killing Vincent Canzani, 61, of Gahanna, while driving drunk the wrong way on westbound I-670 near 3rd Street on June 22. Cordle’s video was posted online on Sept. 3 and quickly went viral, receiving millions of views. He confessed to killing Canzani, vowed to accept responsibility and pleaded with viewers to not drink and drive.

Prosecutor Ron O’Brien is pushing for the maximum sentence. Cordle’s attorneys have suggested that the maximum would be excessive for a man with no felony record and no previous drunken-driving arrests.

We readily could (and I think students on their own should) have a robust debate about how different theories of punishment might suggest toward a particular sentence in the Ohio statutory range of 2 to 8.5 years. But that would entail a review of materials from the first week of classes, and I am now eager to use the case to provide a basis for considering how different jurisdictions (including Oliwood) have different homicide laws that could be used in different ways to sentence a defendant like Cordle.

If you were a prosecutor in Oliwood or California (or any other jurisdiction of interest to you), what homicide charges could you potentially bring in a case like this? What charges would you want to bring? If you represented a defendant like Cordle in some other jurisdiction, what charge(s) would you be urging your client to be willing to plead guilty to?

(If folks find this case/topic of special interest, I will consider creating/offering a "formal extra credit" opportunity for anyone who completes a short blog-worthy memo about any of these topics before next week's scheduled sentencing.)

October 16, 2013 in Course materials and schedule, Notable real cases, Research assignment | Permalink


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Maybe I'm just naive but a 2 year sentence does not really seem like an "acceptance of responsibility" for taking a man's life. The Dispatch did an article about 1 week ago jumping on the other side of the argument. (Link http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2013/10/06/is-killing-with-a-car-different.html )
I seriously thought this was the same story until I clicked through. While the defendant in the case I linked was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide (6 years) and leaving the scene (2 years).
Sidenote---check out the ORC vehicular homicide language. It's crazy long and remarkably more detailed than the cheat sheet Prof. Berman sent us.

Anyway, the interesting piece I swiped from the Oct 6 article was the common pleas judge was quoted saying this in regard to selecting where in the sentencing range (2-6 years) the penalty should fall: “You ask things like whether they’ve done this before and whether they’ve accepted responsibility. If none of that matters, and you’re going to get the max anyway, then you’re not doing your job as a judge. That’s not what the legislature intended.”

While the defense attorney said:" Max sentences are to be reserved for the worst of the worst.” I found this really interesting because this is the feeling I think most of use feel toward the sentencing theory but until this quote, I don't think I've seen this hunch articulated.

Although when I see this thought put into words, I think I hate it. We (Ohio jurisdictions) have already strayed from the MPC groupings of homicide by adding more subcategories. It seems a legitimate point that we should continue these subdivisions further and further in order to more harshly punish the more deserving criminals. This specificity would sacrifice aspects of the judicial power and open up more debate for juries.

I say, once in for all (for now at least) to leave this power in the judges. Let them exercise power over sentencing and stop with all the nit-pickery (new word) involving categorical creation.

End of comment.

Posted by: Christopher Sponseller | Oct 16, 2013 10:32:28 PM

In unrelated news...If nobody is going to go after formal extra credit, I'd be more than happy to give it a whirl and post something Sunday night. Especially now that I have accumulated all these remarkable researching skills from Law 1. I plan to keep my focus on the state of Ohio. It might be interesting to use a different jurisdiction as was mentioned in the blog to see 1)how states have strayed from the MPC and 2)what has caused these variances.

Posted by: Christopher Sponseller | Oct 17, 2013 2:39:33 PM

I would totally be down for the extra credit. Since Chris has taken Ohio, I would take a look at Kansas.

Posted by: Elliot Gaiser | Oct 17, 2013 2:54:52 PM

I would definitely love an extra credit opportunity and I will focus on Kentucky (if they have any laws).

Posted by: Matt Raby | Oct 17, 2013 2:55:29 PM

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