Featured News 2014 Define the Law: No Contest Pleas vs. Alford Pleas

Define the Law: No Contest Pleas vs. Alford Pleas

If you do not want to plead guilty, but you want to stay away from trial, you may have a couple of options. Your criminal defense attorney can best counsel you on how to proceed with your unique case, on achieving a plea deal, etc., but in the meantime, here is an overview of two of your options.

One option is the "no contest" (nolo contedere) plea, which means that you are not saying whether or not you are guilty or innocent: you will simply take the penalties for the charges. But basically, this is pleading guilty. If your chances in trial are slim, however, this gives defendants the opportunity to probably accept a lighter sentence and to technically keep from having to say they are guilty. This could be a viable, if imperfect option for a defendant who wants to assert that they are innocent.

A more strongly worded assertion of innocence is the Alford plea. This plea takes its name from a murder case in North Carolina. Henry Alford claimed innocence, but he realized that in trial he faced the death penalty, and he had witness testimony against him that said he had made incriminating statements. So he pleaded to second-degree murder while maintaining he was innocent.

A court does not have to accept this plea though. If a court does, however, then unlike pleading no contest, a defendant is not pleading guilty, and the record will always show that the defendant maintains his or her innocence.

The thing is, your options are strictly limited by what your state's laws say, and these vary a great deal. Plea bargains and certain types of pleas are not available for every charge, or in every courtroom. Speak to a local criminal defense lawyer now to learn what your options are in your case!

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