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Matthew Cordle, the Ohio man who made a YouTube video confession about killing a man in a DUI-related crash, surprised everyone in court Tuesday -- including the judge -- by entering a plea of not guilty.
Cordle, 22, is charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and OVI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated), and was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. But the judge postponed the arraignment in light of his surprising plea.
Here's how the plea may help or harm his case:
During the arraignment phase, the court reads the formal charges and the defendant enters a plea to each offense.
In the YouTube confessor's case, Judge Julie Lynch expected Cordle to enter a guilty plea -- but his attorneys decided to go the other way at the last minute, reports The Columbus Dispatch.
Judge Lynch was reportedly ready to impose less than a maximum sentence if Cordle was truly remorseful and pleaded guilty. But the surprise maneuver rubbed Judge Lynch the wrong way and she ended up postponing the arraignment altogether.
The surprise tactic may have cost Cordle a golden opportunity to receive a more lenient sentence.
Most problematic, not pleading guilty from the get-go could diminish some of the goodwill that Cordle's video confession gave him. It could tarnish his credibility with the court.
Judge Lynch even said that Cordle's failure to enter a guilty plea "calls into question the validity of being so forthcoming in his YouTube video" about his intent to plead guilty, according to the Dispatch.
Under Ohio law, entering a guilty plea locks in the judge -- in this case Judge Lynch. But with a not guilty plea, the case will be randomly assigned to a trial judge before whom Cordle will likely plead guilty, reports the Dispatch.
Critics (including Judge Lynch) are calling the maneuver classic judge-shopping -- a practice courts generally despise.
But Cordle's attorneys insist the move was strategic. After all, the judge will make a big difference in what sentence Cordle will get.
In this case, prosecutors want a maximum prison sentence of 8 1/2 years, while Cordle's attorneys want about four years. But if a more lenient judge comes on board, favorable plea bargaining may be possible.
In all likelihood, Cordle's attorneys went the not guilty route to start the process of obtaining the lowest sentence possible -- but it could very well backfire.
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