What Is An Alford Plea?

Plea bargaining is a common response when a defendant is facing significant jail time as part of a criminal charge. One of the more unique approaches to the problem of entering a plea is to submit what is called an Alford plea, named after a U.S. Supreme Court case. It is considered a variant of pleading no contest to charges, and it represents a rather controversial way to end a case. Let's take a look at what an Alford plea is and why a criminal law attorney might recommend one to a client.

The What

An Alford plea involves accepting a criminal conviction while continuing to maintain your innocence. For legal purposes, it is a guilty plea in the sense that you will be convicted and you may be punished. Some jurisdictions regularly use Alford pleas, but some courts do not accept them. In federal courts, there has to be administrative approval given to the prosecutor before they can accept an Alford plea.

Essentially, an Alford plea means the defendant is saying, "I'm innocent, but I know the prosecution has enough evidence to convict me." You'd be right to wonder why anyone would take this sort of plea. There are two main reasons.

Bargaining a Charge Down

Plea bargaining is always a contest where both sides want to give as little as possible while also incurring as little pain as possible. Prosecutors, however, oftentimes want to devote limited resources to other cases. They also are, quite frankly, sensitive to the risk of blemishes on their records, and they may be willing to plead a case out to avoid potential professional damage.

For a defendant, there is always the question of if they should give up the fight and when. Some Alford pleas may include stipulations asking that the conviction not be used in future cases, but honoring such an agreement is entirely up to the court in subsequent cases.

Ending a Case

If circumstances mean you'd have no time to serve, it may be best to just end the case with an Alford plea. For example, you might have already served sufficient jail time pending trial, and you'd leave the courthouse free with credit for time served.

Likewise, some Alford pleas are entered to avoid retrials. In exchange for accepting a plea, the prosecution gets to be done with the case and the defendant avoids paying for counsel for a second trial.

For more information about criminal law, consult with a criminal law attorney at a firm like Jacobs & Barbone P A