The differences between regular guilty pleas and Alford pleas

April 8, 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013

Many have asked about what will happen if GZ pleads guilty to murder second degree. Most want to know if the prosecution will lay out its case for the public.

The quick answer is probably not.

There are two types of guilty pleas: a regular guilty plea and an Alford plea.

In a regular guilty plea, the defendant must provide a factual basis to support each element of the crime that the defendant is admitting. The factual basis is written by the defendant’s lawyer and it contains the bare bones necessary to support the charge. For example, O’Mara might write something like this:

On or about February 26, 2012 in Sanford, FL I shot and killed Trayvon Martin in the chest at close range with complete disregard for whether he lived or died. I did not even call 911 for emergency medical assistance and I did not attempt CPR. He did not attack me, he was not armed with a weapon, and I did not shoot him in self-defense. This incident happened in Seminole County, FL

Before accepting his guilty plea, Judge Nelson would place him under oath and read that statement to him and ask him if it was his statement and if it were voluntary after considering all of his rights, including the right to be presumed innocent, remain silent, and force the prosecution to unanimously convince a jury that it had proven each element of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt.

She would accept his plea, if he answers those questions affirmatively.

The Alford plea is quite different because a defendant concedes that the prosecution can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt without admitting that he committed the crime. The prosecution then provides the factual basis for the guilty plea by attaching police reports, witness statements, and forensic reports to the guilty plea. Defendant admits that he has reviewed those reports, their contents are true and correct, and the court may consider them in deciding whether he is guilty.

The court takes a recess and reviews the materials. When she is finished, court resumes and she accepts the plea.

Alford pleas are based on the SCOTUS decision in North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970). They permit defendants to continue to claim they didn’t commit the crime, but the legal system makes no distinction between the two. Both are treated the same for sentencing purposes.

A good example of an Alford plea would be a defendant who claims innocence agrees to plead guilty to take advantage of a plea agreement to plead guilty in exchange for the prosecution’s agreement to not seek the death penalty. This is what happened in Alford.

Due to the nature of the Alford plea, more information about the crime is incorporated into the record than would be the case with a regular guilty plea.

Obviously, much more information comes out, if the case goes to trial.

I do not like Alford pleas because they generally permit defendants to avoid accepting responsibility for what they did and that can come back to hurt them, for example, when a parole board reviews the case and decides to deny parole because the defendant never has accepted responsibility for what he did.

Failure to accept responsibility also typically results in a determination that the defendant is in denial and not amenable to treatment in cases where treatment is a sentencing option.

I hope this summary of the two types of guilty pleas and how they differ answers your questions.

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