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October 8, 2013

What is the "right" sentencing range for aggravated vehicular homicide as a result of drunk driving?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent lengthy article from my local Columbus Dispatch, and it is a question perhaps likely be be broadly in the run-up to the scheduled sentencing next week here in Ohio in a a high-profile drunk driving homicide case.  The article is headlined "Vehicular homicide sentences not harsh enough, say victims’ families: Others say defendant’s history, remorse should count," and here are excerpts:

When she learned that the drunken driver who killed her 15-year-old son could get no more than two to eight years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide, Ellenna Houser was shocked....

Cathy Humphries, who struck Austin Houser with her pickup truck a year ago as he walked on a rural route in Logan County and left him there to die, was sentenced in May to eight years in prison — six years for aggravated vehicular homicide and two years for leaving the scene. “Drug dealers get more time than that,” Houser said.

Columbus defense attorney Brad Koffel gets a different reaction to the potential sentence when he speaks to the family members of a client charged with killing someone while driving drunk. “They find it harsh,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘He has no prior record. This wasn’t intentional.’  ”

But Koffel understands that the families of the victims, and those prosecuting such cases, have a different attitude. “If I were the prosecutor, representing the state of Ohio, I would find eight years to be wholly insufficient,” he said. Finding a balance between those positions at sentencing is one of the toughest jobs a judge will ever face, Koffel said.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David W. Fais will be in that spot on Oct. 16 when he announces a sentence in an aggravated vehicular homicide case that is drawing national attention.

Matthew Cordle, 22, of Powell, pleaded guilty last month to the charge after posting an online confession that went viral. He admitted that he was driving drunk at 2:40 a.m. on June 22 when he killed 61-year-old Vincent Canzani in a wrong-way crash on I-670 near 3rd Street. In the video, which has garnered more than 2.2 million hits on YouTube, Cordle promises to “take full responsibility” for his actions and begs others not to drink and drive.

Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said taking responsibility in this case means serving the maximum penalty, which his office will request at the sentencing hearing. He is among those who think Ohio’s penalties for causing a death through drunken driving are too lenient.

O’Brien said he has received emails from across the country as a result of the Cordle case. “They’re asking, ‘What’s up with Ohio? How can somebody be totally drunk, driving the wrong way on the freeway, kill someone and the penalty is only eight years?’ And it can be as low as two years,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a fair or appropriate penalty.”

W. Martin Midian, one of Cordle’s attorneys, said a fair sentence for his client, who has no felony record and no previous DUI convictions, is something less than the maximum. “I think if Matt were to receive the maximum sentence, it would send the wrong message about people accepting responsibility for their actions,” he said.

Koffel went further, saying that if Cordle receives the maximum as a first-time offender, “I think he has a very good argument on appeal. Max sentences are to be reserved for the worst of the worst.”...

Those found to be driving recklessly when they cause a fatal crash, for such things as texting behind the wheel or running a red light, are charged with a lower-level felony that has a sentencing range of one to five years in prison.

Ohio’s neighboring states are stricter about drunken drivers who cause a death, according to information compiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. A first offense brings a prison term of two to 10 years in West Virginia and five to 10 years in Kentucky. The maximum penalty is 10 years in Pennsylvania and 15 years in Michigan. In Indiana, punishment for a first offense is two to eight years for those with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent to 0.14 percent. Those who test higher can get up to 20 years.

“Ohio is weaker than a lot of states, but we’re not the weakest,” said Doug Scoles, state executive director of MADD. In about half of the states, prison isn’t mandatory, according to MADD’s literature.

The last time Ohio altered penalties for the offense was in 2007. That’s when the legislature passed a law that toughened the sentence for those convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide while drunk who have three or more DUI convictions in the preceding six years. For them, the penalty is 10 to 15 years.

October 8, 2013 at 05:20 PM | Permalink


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With DUI in particular the "no prior record" bit rings very hollow to me. This is not behavior that is engaged in just one time, instead the offender simply had not been caught on any of the prior occasions where they got behind the wheel while impaired. I would be all for execution in cases like that described by the post.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 8, 2013 7:40:32 PM

123D. The hunter who shoots another thinking him a deer may be more dangerous than a mafia contract killer. He has been shooting under the influence, go home, and hit a school bus drunk. All crime with injury should be strict liability, and be counted toward 123D. That is, if the public safety is the aim of the criminal law and not lawyer rent seeking. Because rent seeking is armed robbery, and it leads to crime victim injuries (5 million every year), it should be counted as a violent crime and toward 123D.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 9, 2013 6:45:40 AM

Supremacy Clause, like Sintur Klaus, needs to do a year in prison getting his rear end raped on a regular basis before he says that 8 years is too little.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Oct 9, 2013 10:33:52 AM


You are angry about severe punishment. I have regularly argued against that, as immature, ineffective, from a religious text unlwful in our secular nation.

I am arguing for incapacitation as the sole mature, lawful and effective goal of criminal law. And Job One to Job Last of government is public safety. The death penalty is a reliable incapacitation by expulsion.

As to prison rape, it is an extra-judicial, corporal punishment. Ihave argued for its deterrence by ruinous aggregate claims.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 9, 2013 9:04:54 PM

There are examples representing the less popular side of the drunk driving coin. While we may all share antipathy toward those causing suffering and mayhem over their poor choices, the reasonable among us would have to agree that sentencing can be abusive toward the harsh end. If we didn't give that fact any consideration, the death penalty would be perfectly appropriate for all drunk driving related fatalities.
Steve Mole is a fist time offender serving 30 years in a Texas penitentiary for killing a woman and seriously injuring two other individuals. A typical sociopath who doesn't deserve your sympathy? You may change your mind if you read his story. But even if Mole doesn't personally move you, you may ask yourself whether society is really heading in a good direction with its tendency to turn evermore of us into criminals who will forfeit ever huger percentages of our lives. And while it's getting easier to be deemed a criminal (as in our country has the highest per capita prison population in the world), the capricious sentencing is making it harder to become an ex one.

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Posted by: Hammerschmidt Broughton Law Corporation | Dec 11, 2015 11:01:13 AM

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