What is meant by Alford plea?
When a convicted criminal accepts all charges filed against him and pleads guilty for what he is accused of, it is termed as a guilty plea. However, a plea is termed as an Alford plea when the convict does not plead guilty to all that he is accused of in the charge sheet but pleads guilty for the cause of the case. This plea is executed in a situation where the accused is not willing to accept the petitioner’s accusation, but is willing to plead guilty to an accusation of lower degree to secure him from a higher punishment.
This type of a guilty plea has been in play since it was first used in a case in 1970. The defendant was accused with first-degree murder and was not willing to plead guilty for it. Following the verdicts of eyewitnesses, the defendant was charged and would have had to go through death penalty. However, the defendant was allowed to plead guilty for second-degree murder, which would help him get 30 years of imprisonment as the punishment instead of death penalty. The defendant testified that he had not committed the crime but was pleading guilty only to avoid death penalty.
How can a defendant plea?
The judge preserves the right to decide whether a defendant should be allowed to vow this plea of guilt. This is to prevent the misuse of the law by the defendant. Two conditions need to be satisfied in order to execute this type of a plea.
- A defendant who is confessing to the crime through this plea should understand that he is giving up his rights to defend, to continue the case and to be able to prove his innocence. Hence, the judge should make sure that the defendant understands how the plea works and whether it is the best option for the defendant. The defendant will be treated guilty once the plea is made.
- The judge should also make sure that the defendant is proven guilty of the accusation that he is confessing. There should be substantial evidences to prove that the defendant is guilty, otherwise the plea will not be accepted.
The Alford plea comes as a boon to those convicts who do not accept the petition filed by the petitioner but could be met with a harsh sentence. It becomes more practical for the defendant to plea in this way than to go face such punishment.
Is Alford Plea Justified
In a criminal case, if all evidences and witnesses are against the defendant, he may plead guilty intentionally and voluntarily. This kind of situation may arise in cases where the defendant has no option but to accept guilt on the premise that the court will exempt him from grave charges if he accepts guilt. Courts are known to tone down the quantum of punishment if the guilty shows remorse. The plea is technically known as the Alford Plea.
In criminal cases, there are other pleas the defendant is entitled to such as ‘not guilty,’ ‘contest,’ or ‘no contest.’ If you have ever looked into a criminal case docket, you would probably come across such terms written on the face of the docket meant to assist the attorney or his paralegal to understand the stages of pleading.
Not Guilty Plea and Affirmative Defense
The defendant may deny the charges leveled against him in a criminal prosecution and it is for the prosecution to prove the guilt of the defendant beyond reasonable doubt. When the defendant pleads “not guilty,’ the court records the same and it is then that the prosecution should present evidence to the contrary.
There are not guilty pleas suggests that the defendant can be either excused or justified in committing the crime on the grounds of insanity, forced intoxication, self defense and so on. The onus on the part of the defendant herein is to not prove his innocence but to establish that he deserves to be excused or justified in the act.
As the name suggests, the defendant admits his guilt and it is for the court to admit the plea if facts of the case suggest that the defendant is guilty and such declaration did not arise out of intimidation of any sort.
Consequences of Alford Plea
No Contest Plea
In this type of plea, the defendant does not admit the guilt but facts. The trial and the defendant side evidence will be dispensed with in such cases. The defendant’s arguments strongly suggest the absence of facts constituting a crime in its strictest sense and he cannot be sentenced on such plea without court finding the guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Legal scholars are of the view that the adaptation of the Alford guilty plea is a milestone in the law of criminal justice for the results of application of the plea are farfetched.
A plea is quite common in a court of law as it is an objection made by someone against a reported complaint. One enters into a plea in criminal cases generally. It is a well known fact that the person who is subjected to a criminal case is liable to imprisonment if he/she fails to clear his/her part. But when it comes to Alford plea there is a slight change in definition. It is a guilty plea of a defendant who appears to be an innocent of the crime. It is a technique used by the accused person or his advocate when the evidence against the accused is so strong as to put him/her behind the bars.
How to Use the Plea Law
As I had mentioned in the earlier statement, the plea law is generally used by a person to escape from a sure punishment that would follow if the judge finds him to not show remorse through a confession. It is used as a shield by the defendant or the advocate when their points of arguments become useless and does not seem to help in escaping the punishment. It is also used when the evidence against the accused is so strong and it will lead to conviction. The plea can also play an important role in delaying the final verdict of the case.
When it comes to the stage of the Supreme Court, the plea does not provide a full and fair hearing on the issues in the case. It does not prevent later litigation of the issues.
Effects of the Plea
The plea law had several good effects upon different categories of people. For West Memphis 3,
the plea law allowed them to walk free even without a re-trial which may have resulted in their conviction. In the same manner, prosecutors had their own difficulties due to the use of plea.
The plea law had helped a few convicts to escape harsh sentences of life imprisonment and even the gallows. Even though, one can argue that the allowance of a plea is like a bittersweet for families of the victims, it is a policy that seeks to balance competing interests when closure is clearly out of reach.
Let me conclude that, the Alford plea is neither a full admission of innocence nor guilt. It can serve as both the way to avoid trial or sure punishment, at the same time can also help those who are genuinely innocent but cannot prove so in a court of law due to lack of evidence.