What is an Alford Plea?

By Attorney Carlos Gamino

What is an Alford Plea - Carlos Gamino

Most people haven’t heard of an Alford plea – but it’s a type of plea many people accused of crimes in Wisconsin use. In fact, it’s a type of plea available in 47 of our 50 states (it’s not allowed in Indiana, Michigan or New Jersey).

So what is an Alford plea, and why does it matter?

What is an Alford Plea in the Wisconsin Criminal Justice System?

An Alford plea is a way of pleading guilty while maintaining your innocence. When you enter an Alford plea, you’re admitting that the evidence the prosecution has is likely to convince a judge or jury that you’re guilty, but you’re still saying that you didn’t commit the crime.

Here’s how it works in court – in fact, it’s named after the man described below.

In 1963, Henry Alford was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in North Carolina. In 1970, he agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder – but he did it for a reason. The default penalty for first-degree murder at that time in North Carolina was death, provided that the defendant entered a plea of not guilty and that the jury didn’t recommend a life sentence instead.

Because Alford maintained his innocence, he knew that he could be sentenced to death if the jury so chose – so instead, he took a plea bargain and pled guilty to second-degree murder. He said he was doing so to avoid a death sentence, and once the judge accepted the plea bargain, Alford was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

“I just pleaded guilty because they said if I didn’t, they would gas me for it,” Alford later wrote in one of his appeals.

What is the Purpose of an Alford Plea?

If you agree to plead guilty for a crime that you say you didn’t commit, you’re using an Alford plea. Sometimes criminal defendants use this type of plea because the evidence against them is too strong to make a difference in avoiding a conviction. In other words, defendants who know a conviction is inevitable might use an Alford Plea to avoid the possibility of harsher penalties (like Henry Alford did in 1970).

Is an Alford Plea the Same as a Guilty Plea?

An Alford plea is a guilty plea entered by a defendant who says he or she is innocent. This type of guilty plea is legitimate when the person accused of the crime “intelligently concludes” that an Alford plea will lead to the best possible outcome and when the evidence strongly suggests that the he or she is guilty.

Do You Need to Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney in Wisconsin?

If you’ve been accused of a crime, even if you haven’t been formally charged, we may be able to help you. There are many ways we can defend you in court, so call us right away at 414-383-6700. We’ll be happy to evaluate your case during a free consultation – and we’ll give you the legal guidance you need right now.

Attorney Carlos Gamino