Outline of man and woman talking to judge - Alford Plea Concept

If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony, you have the right to consider all your options before going to trial. That includes entering a guilty plea or an Alford plea (sometimes called a no contest plea). This type of plea agreement allows you to forego trial and still defend your innocence to some of the elements of the crime. Knowing what an Alford plea is, and why you might want to use it, can help you reach an informed decision on whether to take a plea in your criminal case, or prepare for trial.

What is an Alford Plea?

If you enter a guilty plea, it means you are admitting that the offense occurred and all the elements of the crime you were charged with have been met. A guilty plea waives your constitutional right to a trial by a jury of your peers, to confront the witnesses against you, and to present evidence in your own defense. It short-cuts the criminal process, allowing the prosecutor to move forward to sentencing without proving you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

An Alford plea (also called a no contest plea or a “best-interests” plea) results in a criminal conviction just like a guilty plea, or a guilty verdict after trial. It results in the same sentence as another conviction for the same crime. It is named after a United States Supreme Court case, North Carolina v Alford, from 1970, where the defendant entered a plea without admitting guilt.

No contest please or “nolos” are very rare because they walk the line between guilt and innocence. To enter an Alford plea, you must be prepared to state that there is a strong likelihood that you would be convicted at trial and that you desire to accept the prosecutor’s plea agreement to resolve your case. It is sometimes called a “best interest plea” because it can be explained as saying “I am innocent, but taking this plea is still in my best interest.”

If you enter an Alford plea, you can accept the penalty for a crime while avoiding the time, cost, and difficulty of trial without admitting to every element of the crime you have been charged with. Even so, the judge is not required to accept your Alford plea. Your attorney and the prosecutor will each need to explain why the Court should accept the plea as part of your plea advisement hearing.

Why You Might Consider an Alford or No Contest Plea

So why would you accept a punishment if you aren’t willing to admit you committed the crime? There are many complicated reasons why someone might be willing to plead “no contest” but not plead guilty. The most common of these reasons are:

If you are involved in both criminal and civil (or family) cases involving the same events, an Alford plea can be a useful litigation tool. Because a guilty plea requires you to admit all the elements of your crime, it can be used later in your civil case to prove that you were negligent, for example. Criminal cases often move faster than civil cases. If your criminal case goes to trial, all the evidence presented against you can be used in the later civil trial. To avoid this, you may be able to enter a no contest plea and serve your criminal sentence while defending against a lawsuit or other civil case resulting from your actions.

What Happens in a Plea Advisement Hearing?

If you decide not to take your case to trial and enter a plea agreement instead, you will be required to attend a “plea advisement” hearing, also called a “disposition hearing.”  The purpose of this hearing is to make sure you understand the crime you are pleading to, the nature of the plea agreement, and the potential consequences you could face by pleading guilty or no contest. The judge will also advise you of the Constitutional rights you are giving up, and ask you if you agree to do so.

Plea advisement hearings can be fast-paced and confusing. Generally, everything that happens in front of the judge will have already been discussed between you, your attorney, and the prosecutor. There shouldn’t be any surprises. However, if you don’t understand something, or get confused, it is your right to ask for clarification before entering a plea.

Alford Pleas in Domestic Violence Cases

If you have been charged with a domestic violence crime, the Court may refuse to accept your Alford plea. One condition of probation for many domestic violence offenders is to complete batterers’ intervention therapy or other mental health treatment. A key step in that treatment is acknowledging that abusive behavior is wrong. If you entered an Alford plea, you may still believe yourself innocent of committing the abuse. Judges may see that as a hurdle to successful treatment, or as signs that you are trying to minimize your behavior. They might deny your Alford plea to ensure you admit your guilt on the record.

At Aviso Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorneys understand when and how a no contest plea can help protect your interests. We are here to serve you from the initial arrest, through entering a plea agreement and sentencing. We will make sure you understand all your options, and any consequences a plea agreement may have before you decide to waive your right to a trial, so you can choose the best way forward. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.