Alford Plea - What Is It and Which States Use It?

An Alford plea is a type of plea agreement where a criminal defendant pleads guilty to an offense but at the same maintains his or her innocence. By using this type of plea, the defendant acknowledges that there is enough evidence to potentially convict and that the plea will help minimize any criminal penalties.

The Alford Plea

The Alford plea is the guilty acceptance of a crime for a person that claims innocence in the activity. It is similar to the no contest in the acceptance of guilt, but the no contest is for a person that will accept punishment even if he or she does not admit guilt. Both have use to conclude the case in a conviction. The person will take the guilty plea even if he or she knows that the crime was committed by another person at the time. These cases often have few others involved or no one else to blame for the criminal activity.

Why Use an Alford Plea?

Many defendants may use an Alford plea because the evidence is too strong for a trial to make any difference in the avoidance of a conviction. The legal professional may explain that the irrefutable evidence will sway the judge or jury to the prosecution’s argument and still lead to a conviction for the crime even if the defendant is innocent. Taking the chance of a trial could end with tougher penalties than when pleading guilty through the Alford plea. The courts will treat this type of plea differently than the standard guilty plea because of the specific way the defending party will make the plea.

The Lack of Evidence

The primary reason an innocent person will use an Alford plea is because he or she lacks the evidence to support the defense. Often, in criminal cases, the alibi is weak, the evidence lacks strength against the prosecution’s argument or there is no evidence to support the defending party against conviction. While the defending plea is similar to no contest, the accused will accept that he or she cannot defend against the charges successfully. This person still does not admit guilt, but the individual will accept the penalties as part of the process. This may even sway the judge to decrease possible punishments.

The Alford Case

In 1970, Henry Alford started the Alford plea when he affirmed his innocence in the crime of first-degree murder. While the evidence was too strong to refute, he maintained that he was innocent of the charges. He faced the death penalty in North Carolina. Through a plea bargain with the prosecution and the defense lawyer, a deal was struck for a second-degree murder instead of the first-degree counterpart. Alford explained the matter to the judge and that he was innocent of the murder crime. Rather than the death penalty, the judge imposed the maximum sentence and placed Alford in prison for 30 years.

The Appropriate Use of the Alford Plea

There are certain provisions necessary to use the Alford plea appropriately in the courtroom. The Supreme Court affirmed that this person should only use the plea in certain circumstances. The plea is legitimate when the individual is able to intelligently conclude that the plea is the best option available. He or she must also have the prosecution against the case with strong indications of guilt. The plea is often contradictory because of both the claim of innocence and guilt by the defendant. If there is no alternative and the prosecution refuses to negotiate a plea bargain, the Alford plea is often the only choice left.

The States that Use the Alford Plea

The Alford plea is available in all states in the country except Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey. While it is important to make an intelligent determination about the possible choices available, the judge may decide that the plea is unintelligent, involuntary or inaccurate based on the factors of the case. This could lead to a different verdict by the judge and increase sentencing no matter what the crime is.

The Legal Support with an Alford Plea

When not in the three states that forbid using this type of plea, the lawyer will generally explain all available options based on the evidence for or against the accused. If there is no chance of a plea bargain and the prosecution has an iron-tight case, this option may become the only available one to take.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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