DUI Confessions, Self-Incrimination in Arizona – Pleading the Fifth on Social Media

A Tragic Video Confession

You might remember the viral video of an Arizona man, 22 year old Matthew Cordle, who caused a fatal drunk driving accident. He provided a confession in a four-minute online video that went viral with 2.3 million views last September.

Cordle began his chilling confession with “My name is Matthew Cordle and on June 22, 2013, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani. This video will act as my confession.”

Vincent Canzani 61, was the father of two daughters, and a former USA Naval Submarine Veteran. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

Immediately following the crash, Cordle was taken to the hospital for his injuries. But at that time he denied being intoxicated, driving impaired, or causing the fatal accident.

Cordle confessed in the video, that he was driving the wrong way on an interstate, and crashed into Vincent Canzani vehicle.

In the video was the blurred face of man, Cordle, admitting to barhopping, blacking out and driving home drunk. Cordle explained that he had been drinking heavily before getting behind the wheel, and blacked out just before losing control of his vehicle.

Cordle had not yet been charged at the time the video was made, but was expecting the charges to be brought based on the DUI blood test results.

Interestingly, Cordle had retained an attorney, but his attorney claimed he was not aware that his client had planned to post a video confession on the internet.

The DUI test results revealed that Cordle had been driving with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.191 percent. In Arizona, BAC of .015 to .019 DUI would be in violation of the Extreme DUI laws.

Cordle faced the State’s maximum sentence in the charges of 8 1/2 years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide and an operating under the influence (OUI).

Cordle said the reason he made the video was to encourage people not to drink and drive. In it he claimed that he understood that the video was a confession that would provide prosecutors with necessary ammunition against him to get a conviction.

Following the video confession, Cordle was formally charged. But at the arraignment, the suspect pled “not-guilty”. Entering a plea of “not-guilty” invokes a suspects right to defend their charges and retain legal representation.

However, the initial “not guilty plea” did not sit well with the presiding judge. She expected Cordle to plead guilty since he already confessed to the crime. The judge claimed she was “incensed” that Cordle did not plead guilty – claiming that a not-guilty plea at this point, in her opinion was a display that the defendant was not “forthright”.

Apparently, Cordle’s defense attorney pled guilty on his client’s behalf, largely due to the fact that under Ohio law, entering a guilty plea locks in the judge. Cordle’s defense attorney was concerned as to how this particular judge would sentence the defendant. He wanted to make sure his client received fair treatment and rather than a sentence influenced by the media or public outcry, as a result of the unfavorable response from the public, social media, and news media coverage. The
judge then set Cordle’s bond at $225,000.

In October 2013, Cordle reversed his plea to guilty for charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and operating a vehicle while impaired. He was convicted and sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison; lifetime driver’s license suspension; and a fine of $1075.00, according to reports.

Cordle claimed his confession was intended with good cause to help others. At the end of the video, he extended a heartfelt and remorseful plea, warning motorists not to drink and drive.

At sentencing, Cordle was met with unexpected mercy by the family of the victim. The victim’s former wife read a letter at Cordle’s sentencing hearing. She requested on behalf of the family that the judge extend leniency in punishment to be imposed. She believed that because of the type of man the victim was, he would not have wanted the defendant to get the maximum punishment. This plea by family likely served to impact the judge’s decision not to impose maximum sentencing, considering the sentence was two years short of the maximum allowable for the charges.

The survivor’s unexpected plea to the judge for leniency in sentencing following the loss of their loved one caused by a drunk driver was compelling to say the least. It was a rare and and exceptional response from a family who lost a loved one whose life was ended by a drunk driver. One few defendants would be afforded under similar circumstances.

A wrongful death of a loved one in and of itself is enough to harden the hearts of their families. But for many, there is no worse aggravation of pain and suffering than to learn that the wrongdoer has posted public social media messages, videos, or photos, about the wrongful death or serious injury, or to boast about their involvement in the crime.

Law Enforcement’s Use of Social Media in Criminal Investigations

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Police Agencies have long recognized the benefits of using social media and the internet to derive evidence in criminal investigations.

In the “2013 Social Media Survey” conducted by the International Police Chief’s Association it was revealed that 96 percent of law enforcement agencies surveyed were using social media to investigate crimes. Below are some additional findings from that study:

• 500 police agencies representing 48 states reported using social media as an
integral tool for criminal investigations.

• 81 percent of agencies said the most common use of social media was for criminal investigations;

• 80 percent of agencies reported that social media helped solve the crimes in their

• 69 percent of agencies surveyed had social media policies and 14 percent were
in the process of crafting policies;

• 92 percent of the investigations were conducted using Facebook;

• At the time of this survey the top three Social Media outlets used to investigate
crimes were Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.
The internet as become a staple in criminal investigations. Police and prosecutors often scour social media accounts and the internet as part of a criminal investigation. There is potential for not only law enforcement officials to learn about criminal involvement, but also for other users to report it to them.

Freely commenting or sharing information about about your drinking and driving behaviors, or involvement in a crime, will usually result in a swift arrest and prosecution of the offense; just what the state and prosecution needs to convict a suspect.

The 5th Amendment of the US Constitution affords persons protection against self-incrimination. States also provide such protections under their own laws and constitution.

To freely post comments or media about a criminal incident for which a person has been involved, outside of, or against the advice from their criminal defense attorney, will jeopardize their case, and their rights in this regard.

Why Do People Post about their Crimes on Social Media?

Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center (MPRC) , a non-profit organization that examines all aspects of human experience on social media, and it’s impacts on society. She recently commented in a CNN article on this very subject. She explained there are number of reasons people post about their criminal involvement on Social Media. But in most cases the person posting is looking for a way to feel important. She explained that sadly this need for “bravado” often over powers the concern of being caught.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported on similar findings in a recent article entitled “Social Media and Law Enforcement”. They wrote “The structure of social media encourages self-promotion. It offers easy access to an unlimited pool of potential “friends.” Individuals who crave validation can achieve a feeling of connection not available in their offline lives. People who have a desire for attention, notoriety, or fame are attracted to it. To get noticed, they often post entertaining or provocative information…Constraints do not exist for social media”.

Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and other social media outlets, have become an inherent part of people’s lives and work. Its natural for them to speak their mind. Its second nature to post about anything and everything. But once content or media is posted onto an internet website, or social media forum, it becomes “fair game” to use as evidence against the suspects. User’s comments, videos and photos posted or shared that relate to their involvement in a crime is one of the strongest forms of evidence the police and prosecution can use against a suspect. In essence, a person completes the investigation for the prosecution, in what is considered to be one of the strongest forms of evidence that can be used against them.

Electronic communications on the internet, social media, texting or E-mail are just a few of many ways people implicate themselves in DUI charges and other crimes. Another common place where self-incrimination occurs is at a DUI stop.

If you are stopped for suspected drunk driving in Arizona it is important to resist any temptation you might feel about talking to police, and sharing your side of the story. This generally backfires on a suspect. Unfortunately, your openness, and forthright will not generally defuse your problems. But they will often result in arrest and prosecution.

A confession or admission like the public, like the tragic one described above, can severely jeopardize your criminal defense case in court. The statements you give to the police at the DUI stop, and while being detained can be used as evidence against you.

You may also think because you’re drunk, what you say doesn’t matter or that your attorney can later make an argument that your confession was involuntary. In Arizona, a confession is involuntary if a defendant’s will was overcome under the totality of the circumstances. If the State wants to show the confession was made voluntarily and get it admitted into evidence, the State will put an officer on the stand to testify that the confession was made without threat or coercion or promises of immunity.

Even extreme intoxication does not by itself render a confession involuntary in Arizona, as discussed in the case State v. Londo. In that case, a defendant appealed his conviction for narcotics drug sales or transfers claiming that his admission or confession about swallowing crack cocaine was obtained involuntarily and in violation of his right to remain silent. The court ruled that extreme intoxication could be a relevant circumstance but was not enough on its own to get a confession or admission suppressed altogether.

The Fifth Amendment protects your right to remain silent–this silence cannot be held against you. You should not pick and choose which questions you answer, or a negative inference may be raised with respect to the questions you choose not to answer. A blanket refusal to answer questions will work better. Since you also have right to an attorney and the right to a defense, if you are stopped for drunk driving, you can refuse to answer questions and request access to your attorney.

10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Self-Incrimination

• Invoke your right to remain silent, even if your “Miranda warning” has not been read to
• Refrain from posting comments, videos, or any other communications on any social
accounts or platforms;
• Refrain from texting, or discussing the matter with family and friends;
• If the police contact you for questioning about your alleged involvement in a crime,
politely and respectfully decline to comment;
• Refrain from casual comments with police or authorities, and respectfully ask if you are
“free to leave” if you are not being arrested;
• Refrain from answering questions at a DUI stop about where you’re going, where you’ve
been, what you’ve have had to drink or eat, or any medications you’ve taken;
• Refrain from testifying, or providing any testimony verbal, or written, in absence proper
criminal defense representation;
• Know your rights in order to protect yourself from unlawful search and seizures;
• If you are a bystander, or witness, of someone else’s arrest, remain quiet, and do not
• Consult a criminal defense attorney who serves the city where the alleged crime
occurred as soon as possible to discuss your concerns, and defense options.

How to invoke your Right to Remain Silent

Keep in mind that the right to remain silent exists even if you are not under arrest. However, it is not enough to remain silent without invoking your right. To invoke this right, you must either state verbally or in writing that you wish to remain silent. If you fail invoke your right, and simply remain silent, you will be seen as being uncooperative.
Criminal Defense for DUI and Crimes in Phoenix AZ

The relationship you have with your DUI attorney makes it possible to be open and forthright about anything related to the alleged crime, but you should not talk about the case to any other people or make any admissions to them.

If you are arrested, have receive criminal or DUI charges, or there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your matter and defense options If retained, they will protect your rights and provide an effective defense on your behalf. This will increase your chances of being treated fairly, and obtaining more favorable outcome in your case.

If you are under formal investigation for a serious crime, you also have the option of retaining criminal defense protection. This is known as pre-charge or pre-indictment representation.

Pre-charge representation can sometimes lead to charges not being brought, alternative resolutions to the matter, an additional wall of protection to prevent the suspect from self-incrimination; assures your rights are protected, provide self-surrendering assistance to avoid arrest; enables your attorney to be present in the event you are required to undergo questioning or interrogation; and a host of other criminal defense pretrial benefits.

Contact The Law Office of James Novak at 480-413-1499 for a free consultation, if you face DUI charges in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Scottsdale, AZ.

Additional Resources:

Drug DUI and Super Extreme DUI laws

Arizona 2012 Statewide DUI Enforcement Statistics

Mothers Against Drunk Driving

International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Social Media Survey Results

Medial Psychology Research Center

FBI – Social Media and Law Enforcement

More Blogs

Felony DUI Laws and Penalties in Arizona, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, July 1, 2013
Arizona Supreme Court: DUI Partition Ratios Evidence Admissible, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, August 27, 2012

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