Confessing to a crime: Good for society, bad for the defendant?

Matthew Cordle recently made the viral video rounds when he posted a video confessing to causing a fatal car accident in Ohio while he was driving under the influence of alcohol. Some viewers initially thought the video was a joke, others claimed Cordle was simply pandering in order to receive a lesser sentence.

He is facing charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, charges that carry a maximum sentence of eight and a half years. The confession eliminates the need for a long and drawn-out legal process and also affords the victim’s family a definite source of closure. Cordle claims these were the two main motivating factors in taping his confession.

Graphic by Katie Gibson.
Sometimes no matter how you say it you are still a criminal. Graphic by Katie Gibson.

I believe that it takes a lot more effort to stand up and take responsibility for your actions, especially when the consequences of those actions carry such a serious prison sentence. The opportunist may go to trial and try to get off on a technicality or bargain down to a less serious punishment. This thinking leads to long trials that put families of victims through an emotional roller coaster and often leaves them unsatisfied in the end.

This isn’t to say that Cordle should be excused for his actions in any way. He claims he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. His confession makes the prosecutor’s job very easy; it saves the Ohio legal system the time and expense involved in going to trial, and it lets the victim’s family rest easy at night knowing that the person responsible is in custody and facing serious repercussions.

It seems strange to me that this sort of individual initiative is actually detrimental to the defendant. Criminals are incentivized to take their cases to trial and “have their day in court” because they don’t bear the costs of their trial, but are the ones who stand to benefit most from it. By exploiting holes in the law through deception, or even by sheer luck, criminals have the opportunity to make their lives easier at the expense of taxpayers.

I believe that if someone confesses to a crime, they should receive some sort of benefit for saving the strain on the legal system, like earlier consideration for parole or housing in a minimum security prison, to incentivize the behavior of individual responsibility portrayed by Cordle.

He may not have been thinking about others when he decided to get behind the wheel of his automobile after drinking, but I believe he was thinking about others when he decided to confess. It seems strange to me that he’s facing the maximum sentence when, had he had not confessed, he might have been able to plea bargain to half the maximum after wasting half a year in a court case.

There isn’t a perfect solution, but I can’t believe that  going to court over confessing to a crime is the best solution we can come up with.