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Alford plea (also referred to as Alford guilty plea[1][2][3] and Alford doctrine[4][5][6]) in the law of the United States is a guilty plea in criminal court,[7][8][9] where the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence.[10][11][12] Under the Alford plea the defendant admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.[4][13][14][15][16]

Contents

Origin

The Alford guilty plea originated in the United States Supreme Court case of North Carolina v. Alford (1970).[9][11] Henry Alford was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in 1963.[17] Evidence in the case included testimony from witnesses that Alford had said after the death of the victim that he had killed the individual.[17] Court testimony showed Alford and the victim had gotten into an argument at the house of the deceased.[17] Alford left the house, and afterwards the victim received a fatal gunshot wound when he opened the door responding to a knock.[17]

Alford was faced with the possibility of capital punishment if convicted through a jury trial.[18] The death penalty was the automatic sentence by North Carolina law at the time, if two requisites in the case were satisfied.[17] The defendant had to have pleaded not guilty, and the jury did not instead recommend a life sentence.[17] Had he pled guilty to first-degree murder, Alford would have had the possibility of a life sentence, but avoided the death penalty.[17] The defendant did not want to admit guilt, and instead gave a plea of nolo contendere while simultaneously saying that key points given by the prosecution were factual.[11] Alford pled guilty to second-degree murder, and said he was doing so to avoid a death sentence if he had been convicted of first-degree murder after attempting to contest that charge.[17][19] Alford was sentenced to thirty years in prison, after the trial judge in the case accepted the plea bargain and ruled that the defendant had been adequately apprised by his lawyer.[17]

Supreme Court Justice Byron White wrote the decision for the majority

Alford appealed and requested a new trial, arguing he was forced into a guilty plea because he was afraid of receiving a death sentence.[17] The Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that the defendant had voluntarily entered the guilty plea, with knowledge of what that meant.[17] Following this ruling, Alford petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, and subsequently to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.[17] In both cases, the courts relied on the initial state court ruling, and denied Alford's petition for a writ.[17] Next, Alford petitioned again for a writ of habeas corpus in United States federal court, and this was again denied.[17] "I just pleaded guilty because they said if I didn't, they would gas me for it," wrote Alford in one of his appeals.[20] The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Alford's plea was not voluntary, because it was made under fear of the death penalty.[20]

Supreme Court Justice Byron White wrote the decision for the majority.[21] The Supreme Court held that for the plea to be accepted, the defendant must have been advised by a competent lawyer who was able to inform the individual that their best decision in the case would be to enter a guilty plea.[18] The Court ruled the defendant can enter such a plea "when he concludes that his interests require a guilty plea and the record strongly indicates guilt."[20] The Court only allowed the guilty plea with a simultaneous protestation of innocence as there was enough evidence to show that the prosecution had a strong case for a conviction, and the defendant was entering such a plea to avoid this possible sentencing.[18] The Court went on to note that even if the defendant could have shown that he would not have entered a guilty plea "but for" the rationale of receiving a lesser sentence, the plea itself would not have been ruled invalid.[18] As evidence existed that could have supported Alford's conviction, the Supreme Court held that his guilty plea was allowable while the defendant himself still maintained that he was not guilty.[19]

Definition

Dictionary of Politics: Selected American and Foreign Political and Legal Terms defines the term Alford plea as: "A plea under which a defendant may choose to plead guilty, not because of an admission to the crime, but because the prosecutor has sufficient evidence to place a charge and to obtain conviction in court. The plea is commonly used in local and state courts in the United States."[15] According to University of Richmond Law Review, "When offering an Alford plea, a defendant asserts his innocence but admits that sufficient evidence exists to convict him of the offense."[16] A Guide to Military Criminal Law notes that under the Alford plea, "the defendant concedes that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict, but the defendant still refuses to admit guilt."[14] The book Plea Bargaining's Triumph: A History of Plea Bargaining in America published by Stanford University Press defines the plea as one in "which the defendant adheres to her claim of innocence even while allowing that the government has enough evidence to prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt".[13] According to the book Gender, Crime, and Punishment published by Yale University Press, "Under the Alford doctrine, a defendant does not admit guilt but admits that the state has sufficient evidence to find him or her guilty, should the case go to trial."[4] Webster's New World Law Dictionary defines Alford plea as: "A guilty plea entered as part of a plea bargain by a criminal defendant who denies committing the crime or who does not actually admit his guilt. In federal courts, such plea may be accepted as long as there is evidence that the defendant is actually guilty."[9]

The Alford guilty plea is "a plea of guilty containing a protestation of innocence".[7] The defendant pleads guilty, but does not have to specifically admit to the guilt itself.[22] The defendant maintains a claim of innocence, but agrees to the entry of a conviction in the charged crime.[23] Upon receiving an Alford guilty plea from a defendant, the court may immediately pronounce the defendant guilty and impose sentence as if the defendant had otherwise been convicted of the crime.[12] The Alford guilty plea is a form of nolo contendere; where the defendant in the case states "no contest" to the factual matter of the case as given in the charges outlined by the prosecution.[11] An Alford guilty plea is simply a form of a guilty plea,[8][9] and, as with other guilty pleas, the judge must see there is some factual basis for the plea.[12]

Defendants can take advantage of the ability to use the Alford guilty plea, by admitting there is enough evidence to convict them of a higher crime, while at the same time pleading guilty to a lesser charge.[24] Defendants usually enter an Alford guilty plea if they want to avoid a possible worse sentence were they to lose the case against them at trial.[12] It affords defendants the ability to accept a plea bargain, while maintaining innocence.[25]

Court and government usage

This form of guilty plea has been frequently used in local and state courts in the United States;[15] though it consists of a small percentage of all plea bargains in the U.S.[13] The form of plea is not allowed in courts of the United States military.[14][17] In 2000 the United States Department of Justice noted, "In an Alford plea the defendant agrees to plead guilty because he or she realizes that there is little chance to win acquittal because of the strong evidence of guilt. About 17% of State inmates and 5% of Federal inmates submitted either an Alford plea or a no contest plea, regardless of the type of attorney. This difference reflects the relative readiness of State courts, compared to Federal courts, to accept an alternative plea."[26]

In the 1995 case State of Idaho v. Howry before the Idaho Court of Appeals, the Court commented on the impact of the Alford guilty plea on later sentencing.[27] The Court ruled, "Although an Alford plea allows a defendant to plead guilty amid assertions of innocence, it does not require a court to accept those assertions. The sentencing court may, of necessity, consider a broad range of information, including the evidence of the crime, the defendant's criminal history and the demeanor of the defendant, including the presence or absence of remorse."[27] In the 1999 South Carolina Supreme Court case State v. Gaines, the Court held that Alford guilty pleas were to be held valid in the absence of a specific on-the-record ruling that the pleas were voluntary – provided that the sentencing judge acted appropriately in accordance with the rules for acceptance of a plea made voluntarily by the defendant.[28] The Court held that a ruling that the plea was entered into voluntarily is implied by the act of sentencing.[28]

"Alford plea (see North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160 (1970)) (when a defendant maintains his or her innocence with respect to the charge to which he or she offers to plead guilty)"

In the 2006 case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Ballard v. Burton, Judge Carl E. Stewart writing for the Court held that an Alford guilty plea is a "variation of an ordinary guilty plea".[30] In October 2008, the United States Department of Justice defined an Alford plea as: "when a the [sic] defendant maintains his or her innocence with respect to the charge to which he or she offers to plead guilty".[29]

In March 2009, the Minnesota House of Representatives characterized the Alford plea as: "a form of a guilty plea in which the defendant asserts innocence but acknowledges on the record that the prosecutor could present enough evidence to prove guilt."[31] The Minnesota Judicial Branch similarly states: "Alford Plea: A plea of guilty that may be accepted by a court even where the defendant does not admit guilt. In an Alford plea, defendant has to admit that he has reviewed the state's evidence, a reasonable jury could find him guilty, and he wants to take advantage of a plea offer that has been made. Court has discretion as to whether to accept this type of plea."[32]

Commentary

In his 1972 book American Criminal Justice, Jonathan D. Caplan comments on the Supreme Court decision, noting, "The Alford decision recognizes the plea-bargaining system, acknowledging that a man may maintain his innocence but still plead guilty in order to minimize his potential loss."[33] Caplan comments on the impact of the Supreme Court's decision making it necessary for there to be evidence of guilt in such a plea, "By requiring that there be some evidence of guilt in such a situation, the decision attempts to protect the 'really' innocent from the temptations to which plea-bargaining and defense attorneys may subject them."[33]

Major Steven E. Walburn argues in a 1998 article in The Air Force Law Review that this form of guilty plea should be adopted for usage by the United States military.[17] "In fairness to an accused, if, after consultation with his defense counsel, he knowingly and intelligently determines that his best interest is served by an Alford-type guilty plea, he should be free to choose this path. The system should not force him to lie under oath, nor to go to trial with no promise of the ultimate outcome concerning guilt or punishment. We must trust the accused to make such an important decision for himself. The military provides an accused facing court-martial with a qualified defense attorney. Together, they are in the best position to properly weigh the impact his decision, and the resulting conviction, will have upon himself and his family," writes Walburn.[17] He emphasizes that when allowing these pleas, "trial counsel should establish as strong a factual basis as possible", in order to minimize the possible negative outcomes to "the public's perception of the administration of justice within the military".[17]

"These procedures may be constitutional and efficient, but they undermine key values served by admissions of guilt in open court."

 —Stephanos Bibas, Cornell Law Review[10]

Stephanos Bibas writes in a 2003 analysis for Cornell Law Review that Judge Frank H. Easterbrook and a majority of scholars "praise these pleas as efficient, constitutional means of resolving cases."[10] Bibas notes that prominent plea bargain critic Albert Alschuler supports the use of this form of plea, writing, "He views them as a lesser evil, a way to empower defendants within a flawed system. As long as we have plea bargaining, he maintains, innocent defendants should be free to use these pleas to enter advantageous plea bargains without lying. And guilty defendants who are in denial should be empowered to use these pleas instead of being forced to stand trial."[10] Bibas instead asserts that this form of plea is "unwise and should be abolished".[10] Bibas argues, "These procedures may be constitutional and efficient, but they undermine key values served by admissions of guilt in open court. They undermine the procedural values of accuracy and public confidence in accuracy and fairness, by convicting innocent defendants and creating the perception that innocent defendants are being pressured into pleading guilty. More basically, they allow guilty defendants to avoid accepting responsibility for their wrongs."[10]

Legal scholar Jim Drennan, an expert on the court-system at the Institute of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the Winston-Salem Journal in a 2007 interview that the ability to use this form of guilty plea as an option in courts had a far-reaching effect throughout the United States.[20] Drennan commented, "We have lots of laws, but human interaction creates unique circumstances and the law has to adapt."[20] He said of the Supreme Court case, "They had to make a decision about what to do. One of the things the court has to do is figure out how to answer new questions, and that is what happened in this case."[20]

See also

References

  1. ^ Shepherd, Jr., Robert E. (November 2000). "Annual Survey of Virginia Law Article: Legal issues involving children". University of Richmond Law Review (University of Richmond Law Review Association) 34: 939. 
  2. ^ Editor, The Montana Lawyer (February 1998). "Regular Features: Discipline Corner: Disbarment follows four years of disciplinary action against Kalispell lawyer". The Montana Lawyer (State Bar of Montana) 23: 23. 
  3. ^ Huff, C. Ronald; Martin Killias (2008). Wrongful Conviction. Temple University Press. pp. 143, 289. ISBN 1592136451. 
  4. ^ a b c Daly, Kathleen (1996). Gender, Crime, and Punishment. Yale University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0300068662. 
  5. ^ Thompson, Norma (2006). Unreasonable Doubt. University of Missouri Press. p. 38. ISBN 0826216382. 
  6. ^ Neighbors, Ira; Anne Chambers, Ellen Levin, Gila Nordman, Cynthia Tutrone (2002). Social Work and the Law. Routledge. p. 18. ISBN 978-0789015488. 
  7. ^ a b Scheb, John (2008). Criminal Procedure. Wadsworth Publishing. p. 148. ISBN 978-0495503866. 
  8. ^ a b Anderson, James F. (2002). Criminal Justice and Criminology: Concepts and Terms. University Press of America. p. 7. ISBN 0761822240. 
  9. ^ a b c d Wild, Susan Ellis (2006). Webster's New World Law Dictionary. Webster's New World. p. 21. ISBN 0764542109. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Bibas, Stephanos (2003). "Harmonizing Substantive Criminal Law Values and Criminal Procedure: The Case of Alford and Nolo Contendere Pleas". Cornell Law Review 88 (6). doi:10.2139/ssrn.348681. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/plea/four/nolo.html. 
  11. ^ a b c d Champion, Dean J. (1998). Dictionary of American Criminal Justice: Key Terms and Major Supreme Court Cases. Routledge. p. 7. ISBN 1579580734. 
  12. ^ a b c d Gardner, Thomas J.; Terry M. Anderson (2009). Criminal Evidence: Principles and Cases. Wadsworth Publishing. p. 50. ISBN 0495599247. 
  13. ^ a b c Fisher, George (2003). Plea Bargaining's Triumph: A History of Plea Bargaining in America. Stanford University Press. p. 319. ISBN 0804751358. 
  14. ^ a b c Davidson, Michael J. (1999). A Guide to Military Criminal Law. US Naval Institute Press. p. 56. ISBN 1557501556. 
  15. ^ a b c Raymond, Walter John (1992). Dictionary of Politics: Selected American and Foreign Political and Legal Terms. Brunswick Publishing Corporation. p. 9. ISBN 978-1556180088. 
  16. ^ a b Judge, Michael T.; Stephen R. McCullough (November 2009). "Criminal law and procedure". University of Richmond Law Review (University of Richmond Law Review Association) 44: 339. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Walburn, Steve E. (1998). "Should the Military Adopt an Alford-Type Guilty Plea?". The Air Force Law Review (Judge Advocate General School, United States Air Force) 44: 119–169. 
  18. ^ a b c d Solgan, Christopher (Spring 2000). "Life or Death: The Voluntariness of Guilty Pleas by Capital Defendants and the New York Perspective". New York Law School Journal of Human Rights (New York Law School) 16: 699. 
  19. ^ a b Feinman, Jay M. (2006). Law 101: Everything You Need to Know about the American Legal System. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 327. ISBN 0195179579. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f Barksdale, Titan (March 28, 2007). "(Not) Guilty - Lawyer in case that led to Alford plea says he worried about later questions". Winston-Salem Journal: p. B1. 
  21. ^ Acker, James R.; David C. Brody (2004). Criminal Procedure: A Contemporary Perspective. Jones & Bartlett Publishers. pp. 485–488. ISBN 0763731692. 
  22. ^ Raum, Michael S.; Jeffrey L. Skaare (2000). "Encouraging Abandonment: The Trend Towards Allowing Parents to Drop Off Unwanted Newborns". North Dakota Law Review (University of North Dakota) 76: 511. 
  23. ^ Mueller, Christopher B.; Laird C. Kirkpatrick (1999). Evidence: Practice Under the Rules. Aspen Publishers. p. 759. ISBN 0735504474. 
  24. ^ Duff, Antony (2004). The Trial on Trial, Volume One: Truth and Due Process. Hart Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 1841134422. 
  25. ^ Marquis, Joshua (Winter 2005). "Symposium: Innocnence in Capital Sentencing: Article: The Myth of Innocence". Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology (Northwestern School of Law) 95: 501. 
  26. ^ Harlow, Caroline Wolf (November 2000). "Defense Counsel in Criminal Cases". NCJ 179023 (United States Department of Justice). http://ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/dccc.txt. Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  27. ^ a b Cooper, Bob (November 3, 2003). "Coles Enters Guilty Pleas on Two Felony Charges". Office of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. State of Idaho. http://www2.state.id.us/ag/newsrel/2003/nr_nov032003b.htm. Retrieved 2009-11-30. 
  28. ^ a b Nichols, John S.; Robert L. Felix, F. Patrick Hubbard, Herbert A. Johnson, William S. McAninch and Eldon D. Wedlock (September/October 1999). "Department: What's New?". South Carolina Lawyer (South Carolina Bar) 11: 48. 
  29. ^ a b United States Department of Justice (October 2008). "9-16.015 Approval Required for Consent to Alford Plea". Pleas - Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11 (www.justice.gov). http://www.justice.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usam/title9/16mcrm.htm#9-16.015. Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  30. ^ Bustos, Fernando (Spring 2007). "Fifth Circuit Survey: June 2005-May2006: Survey Article: Civil Rights". Texas Tech Law Review (Texas Tech University School of Law) 39: 719. 
  31. ^ Minnesota House of Representatives (March 27, 2009). "Permanent disqualification". Bill Summary: House Research Department (Minnesota). http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/bs/86/hf1750.html. Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  32. ^ Minnesota Judicial Branch. "Alford Plea". Glossary of Legal Terms (Minnesota). http://mncourts.gov/district/5/?page=490. Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  33. ^ a b Jackson, Bruce (1984). Law and Disorder. University of Illinois Press. pp. 119–120. ISBN 0252010124. 

Further reading

  • McConville, Mike (1998). "Plea Bargainings: Ethics and Politics". Journal of Law and Society 25 (4): 562–587. doi:10.1111/1467-6478.00103. 
  • Shipley, Curtis J. (1987). "The Alford Plea: A Necessary But Unpredictable Tool for the Criminal Defendant". Iowa Law Review 72: 1063. ISSN 0021-0552. 
  • Ward, Bryan H. (2003). "A Plea Best Not Taken: Why Criminal Defendants Should Avoid the Alford Plea". Missouri Law Review 68: 913. ISSN 0026-6604. 

External links

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

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Etymology

Originated in the US legal case before the Supreme Court of the United States, North Carolina v. Alford (1970).

Noun

Singular
Alford plea

Plural
Alford pleas

Alford plea (plural Alford pleas)

  1. (US, law) A plea in criminal court in which the defendant does not admit guilt but concedes the government has sufficient evidence to convict.
    • 1992, Walter John Raymond, Dictionary of Politics: Selected American and Foreign Political and Legal Terms, Brunswick Publishing Corporation, ISBN 978-1556180088, page 9:
      Alford Plea. A plea under which a defendant may choose to plead guilty, not because of an admission to the crime, but because the prosecutor has sufficient evidence to place a charge and to obtain conviction in court. The plea is commonly used in local and state courts in the United States.
    • 1996, Kathleen Daly, Gender, Crime, and Punishment, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300068662, page 20:
      Under the Alford doctrine, a defendant does not admit guilt but admits that the state has sufficient evidence to find him or her guilty, should the case go to trial.
    • 2006, Susan Ellis Wild, Webster's New World Law Dictionary, Webster's New World, ISBN 0764542109, page 21:
      Alford plea. A guilty plea entered as part of a plea bargain by a criminal defendant who denies committing the crime or who does not actually admit his guilt. In federal courts, such plea may be accepted as long as there is evidence that the defendant is actually guilty. Named after North Carolina v. Alford (1970.)
    • 2009, Michael T. Judge; Stephen R. McCullough, “Criminal law and procedure”, University of Richmond Law Review, November, page 339, Vol. 44: 
      When offering an Alford plea, a defendant asserts his innocence but admits that sufficient evidence exists to convict him of the offense.

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