Man in Ohio Gets 6 ½ Years After YouTube Apology- Case Highlights the Dangers of Social Media in Criminal Cases

By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

Many people may have been following the rather compelling case of 22 year old Matthew Cordle. The Ohio man made headlines earlier this year by posting a video on YouTube in which he starkly confessed to causing the death of a 65 year old man in an alcohol-involved crash. Cordle eventually pled guilty to Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, and this week he was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison for his role in the crash.

Although Cordle’s motivations for making the video remain unclear, this case highlights a growing concern for criminal defense attorneys: the devastating impact that unwise decisions involving social media can have on a criminal case. In Cordle’s case, notwithstanding his emotional and public apology, the prosecutor sought the maximum possible sentence. Armed with Cordle’s free and full online confession, the prosecution’s case became a virtual slam dunk for trial. In an age where complete strangers can connect across oceans, and seemingly “private” communications can become very public almost instantly, many people learn the hard way that the things they do or say on social media can easily turn up against them in a court of law.

For anyone facing potential criminal charges, the words “anything you say can and will be used against you” should now be heard as “anything you say, type, text, tweet, record or post can and will be used against you.” When something as potentially life-changing as a criminal charge happens, many people react initially by posting something about the case in the same social media accounts where they post all of their major life events. Police and prosecutors are well aware of this, and it is now common for them to scour social media accounts of suspects. In fact, on some of the most popular social media sites, even deleted posts are saved permanently and can be retrieved by law enforcement.
If you are charged with, or think you may be charged with, any criminal offense, the same advice applies online as it does everywhere else: you should not do anything, say anything, or talk to anyone until you have consulted with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The last place you want to see a long forgotten tweet or post is in pre-trial discovery from the prosecution. If you want to confront your accuser, your attorney will advise you on how that can be done appropriately in court. If you want to take responsibility and express remorse, your attorney will advise you on how to do that in a constructive way after sentencing. If you want to explain your side of the story, your attorney will advise you on how and whether you should testify on your own behalf.

There are certainly times when it is appropriate or beneficial to use a defense strategy that involves carefully planned media and public relations exposure. However, only an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands exactly how and when an out of court statement could come back to haunt you later, can help you craft such a strategy.

If you are charged with, or fear that you may be charged with a crime in Pennsylvania, stay away from social media and call us today for a consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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