What Is The Alford Plea In A Criminal Case?

If you are interested in true crime, you may have come across the term Alford Plea in some criminal cases. During a defendant's arraignment, the most common pleas are guilty, not guilty, or no contest. However, you may have also heard the Alford Plea once or twice. In an Alford Plea, the defendant does not admit guilt to a criminal act but accepts the consequences of the crime (via U.S. Legal).

Some defendants use the Alford Plea if they know that the prosecution has strong evidence that will most likely get them convicted. It's also a form of self-preservation, as using the Alford Plea may lead to the defendant having a less serious sentence than if they go through a trial. Despite having the option to enter the plea, it is still the court's decision whether to accept it or not. Per HG Legal Resources, there is an appropriate way of using the plea in a criminal case. The defendant must conclude that the Alford Plea is the best choice in the situation. It is an option for criminal defendants in all states except Michigan, Indiana, and New Jersey.

The history of the Alford Plea

Henry C. Alford was the defendant in a North Carolina murder case in 1963. According to reports, Alford got into a fight with a man named Nathaniel Young, who later died from a shotgun wound. Alford was charged with his murder and during his plea hearing, a witness testified hearing Alford declare that he was going to kill Young. Another witness saw Alford leaving his home carrying a gun. According to The Delaware Gazette, even his lawyer was convinced of his client's guilt. However, Alford insisted that he wasn't the one who killed Young.

The attorney made it clear to Alford that his first-degree murder charge would most likely lead to a conviction and the death penalty. The state offered Alford a plea deal, wherein he would plead guilty to second-degree murder and face up to 30 years in prison. He took the deal but when it came time to state his plea in court, Alford insisted that he was not guilty. "I pleaded guilty on second-degree murder because they said there is too much evidence," he exclaimed. "I just pleaded guilty because they said if I didn't, they would gas me for it, and that is all."

Henry Alford's case reached the supreme court

Henry C. Alford's plea was accepted and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder. He appealed his case and insisted his innocence, saying that he only pleaded guilty, as he feared being put to death. The federal court concluded that his plea should not have been accepted as it was done "involuntarily" and out of fear, per Thought Co. Alford's initial verdict was vacated, and his case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

By 1969, Alford's case has reached the Supreme Court, and after discussions, it was concluded that Alford was not forced to make a guilty plea, as his attorney presented him with a few options. He made the conscious decision to accept the plea deal, as he saw that it was the best scenario out of the options that he had (via The Delaware Gazette). In the end, Alford's sentence was sustained. He died in prison in 1975 at 57 years old.