Most people think they only have two options when being asked to enter a plea to criminal charges. They believe they must answer “guilty” or “not guilty”. However, there is a little-known third option, called an Alford plea, named after the first person to use it.
This plea option is effectively a guilty plea entered by someone who maintains their innocence. There are two situations you might consider using one if you’re facing serious criminal charges.
You will be permitted to take a plea deal for a lesser sentence
The original use of the Alford plea was to avoid the death sentence. The prosecution was going for a first-degree murder charge but was willing to drop it if the defendant pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Prosecutors are often keen to make a deal, even with less serious charges, to avoid the cost and distress a trial can cause.
You maintain your innocence but strongly suspect that you won’t win
While there are many ways to contest a charge, sometimes it is wise to accept that however much you plead your innocence and however innocent you are, you are going to lose your case. The evidence stacked against you is so great that making an Alford plea is your best bet. It’s saying, “Yes, I will take your guilty charge, but I did not do it.”
You will still incur a criminal record
An Alford plea will still result in a court punishing you for the crime you’re charged with, and it will still result in you gaining a criminal record with all the long-term consequences that can bring. So, while it is a useful tactic to be aware of, you should always seek legal guidance to examine all possible alternatives that could potentially help you avoid a conviction before committing to any kind of guilty plea.