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Alford Pleas

The holding in the 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case of North Carolina v. Alford allows one accused of a crime to plead guilty to that crime and consent to the imposition of a sentence even if they are unwilling to admit his or her participation in the acts constituting the crime, or even if the guilty plea is accompanied by a protestation of innocence, when the individual intelligently concludes that his or her interests require a guilty plea and the record strongly evidences the individual’s guilt.  Such a plea is known as an Alford plea.

The question before the Court in the Alford case was whether a court could accept a guilty plea when accompanied by protestations of evidence.  The Court decided that with adequate advisement and an intelligent waiver of rights on the part of the defendant, a court can accept a guilty plea in such situations when there also exists strong evidence of actual guilt.  The showing of strong evidence of actual guilt is the one additional requirement added to the usual requirements for a valid plea.

One potential problem with an Alford plea in driving under the influence cases is the participation by the defendant in treatment.  A defendant who denies factual guilt and is allowed to enter an Alford plea may have trouble with a treatment provider who requires an admission of wrongdoing as a condition of the treatment.

A court that accepts an Alford plea can still sentence the defendant to the same sentence as if straight guilty plea had been entered.  Thus, an Alford plea is the functional equivalent of a guilty plea.

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