Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 12/3/12: The Alford Plea

The Alford plea is a form of alternative plea in which a defendant enters a plea of guilty but still asserts his or her innocence. The defendant entering an Alford plea acknowledges that sufficient evidence exists for the prosecution to likely prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and is able to enter into a plea bargain without conceding guilt or making allocution to the crime. This controversial plea is allowed in federal courts and in 47 state courts, but not in Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, or before the courts of the U.S. armed forces.

Another example of an alternative plea is pleading “no contest”.


Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 12/3/12: The Alford Plea — 4 Comments

  1. What happens when someone enters an Alford plea in a state where it is forbidden…what happens if the judge and prosecutor accept the Alford plea in a criminal court case where it should be forbidden..can the defendant’s Alford plea become invalid and bring them back to face criminal charges

    • hi, thanks for writing–that’s an interesting question. Without more information, I can only make some general statements– if a plea bargain has been accepted, as was the case here, it usually is considered final– that is, after all, the whole foundation that underlies plea bargaining. There are exceptions that differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but generally a showing of ‘manifest injustice’ or similar would be required in order to try to overturn any plea bargain.

      I understand your comment to be asking if the Alford plea could be overturned on the basis that it was accepted in a non-Alford jurisdiction. I can’t answer that specifically, because without knowing the facts it is hard to imagine why a non-Alford jurisdiction would ever accept an Alford plea–did they treat it as the functional equivalent of a guilty plea, as some jurisdictions do? The simple answer is that yes, I suppose it is possible, but invalidating a plea bargain is done rarely and, again, only in exceptional circumstances. If the parties entered into the agreement in good faith, and with transparency, it does not seem either side would have any reason to seek to overturn it. So, while I cannot speak to this specific case, I would say that I think it unlikely that it would be invalidated. Both sides are entitled to have the expectancy of finality that traditionally comes with a plea bargain. And, presumably if it was invalidated, the parties would still be free to agree to a new plea bargain–even if it did not fit the description of an Alford plea.

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