The U.S. criminal justice system is designed with the intent of avoiding accusing and/or convicting an innocent person of a crime. Despite its best intentions, no system is flawless, and innocent people do find themselves facing criminal charges. Some people in North Carolina who find themselves in this position may choose to enter Alford pleas as part of their criminal defense.
The Alford plea stems from a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1963. The case involved a man who was charged with murder. While he maintained his innocence, he accepted a guilty plea in order to avoid the death penalty because he felt there was likely sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. The case wound its way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that accepting a guilty plea, although the defendant maintained his or her innocence, was indeed constitutional.
Essentially, an Alford plea is an admission that there is sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in court. The defendant accepts the consequences of a guilty plea without admitting guilt. This type of plea is rarely used and must be approved by the court before it can be entered. It can only be used if the defendant has competent representation, there is strong evidence of guilt before the court and the decision to enter the plea is chosen intelligently.
Despite the safeguards in place, wrongful accusations and convictions do happen. For those who find themselves facing charges and are in need of criminal defense, there is help available. Defense attorneys can help advise those in North Carolina charged with crimes about their options, allowing defendants to make informed decisions about the directions of their cases.
Source: FindLaw, “What Is an Alford Plea?“, Aditi Mukherji, Accessed on Oct. 17, 2015