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The Truth Optional System

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Yahoo News carries the story of a fellow, Matthew Cordle, who made a widely circulated YouTube confession that he killed a man in a drunk driving collision. He said at the time that he took full responsibility and would plead guilty.


When he made his appearance today, no such luck.  He pleaded "not guilty," notwithstanding the fact of his (extremely) public confession.  So what gives?

His attorneys told ABC News that it's a common maneuver to get the legal ball rolling, and that they planned on changing the plea to guilty immediately....Judge Lynch said that Cordle's attorneys are trying to game the system. Under Ohio law, entering a guilty plea locks in the judge -- in this case Lynch. She said that she believes Cordle's team got spooked after she told them she didn't know how she'd sentence Cordle, who faces anywhere from two to eight and a half years in prison.

Here's the explanation:

ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor Dan Abrams said that these factors can all make a difference in sentencing.  "It seems pretty clear he's going to plead guilty," Abrams said. "Once you commit to pleading guilty, there are only one a few questions left: What's going to be the sentence? And who determines that? The judge -- and which judge you get -- can make a big difference."

There are a couple of angles to this story.  One is the observation that the draw of the judge can make such a difference in sentencing.  Of course this should not be the case; in a rule-of-law system, it should be rules, not taste, temperament or sometimes just mood, that tell the tale at sentencing.  This is why I have always supported binding sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum statutes.

The other angle is that people will take it as utterly unremarkable that a guilty defendant (by his own spontaneous account) will plead not guilty in order, to use defense counsel's wonderfully revealing phrase, "to get the legal ball rolling."

If there were any of you out there who thought that what you said in court was supposed to be, like, you know, the truth or something, it's time to wake up.  What you say doesn't have to have beans to do with the truth as long as it "gets the legal ball rolling."

I expect, of course, to be accused of childish naivety.  Don't I have even the basic sophistication to understand that it's not about telling the truth; it's about your Moves in the Game to Try to Maneuver Your Way to the Best Deal?

Guilty as charged.  I lack such sophistication.  Indeed, I don't even want it.  I'd prefer a system in which people just told the truth and quit with the shake-and-jive.  Since this makes me a hopeless, wahoo troglodyte (either that or a prosecution-loving Nazi), excuse me while I recur to my cave.

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B.Otis: "Since this makes me a hopeless, wahoo troglodyte (either that or a prosecution-loving Nazi), excuse me while I recur to my cave."

Shakespeare was no simpleton, yet he presents a character in King Lear
as poignant, who says,
"Wisdom and Goodness to the vile seem vile".

Your preference for the unvarished truth and justice over complicated fabrications
is not primitivistic, it is noble and "Christian";
i.e. the hero of John Bunyan's Pilgrim Progress who famously exclaimed:
"I buy the Truth!," to the deceptive smut peddlers of Vanity Fair.

Keep Calm and Carry On.


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