When you are charged with a crime you have five options in how you plea:
- Not Guilty – the defendant claims innocence, and the case goes to trial before a judge or a jury of his/her peers.
- Guilty - the defendant admits to committing the crime and accepts the prosecutor’s offer of an agreed upon plea deal, avoiding a jury trial
- Blind - the defendant admits to committing the crime and allows the judge to determine the sentence, avoiding a jury trial
- No Contest (Nolo Contendere) - the defendant neither admits nor denies guilt, but acknowledges that the evidence is sufficient to convict, should the case go to trial. The defendant accepts the prosecutor’s offer of an agreed upon plea deal, avoiding a jury trial. Not all judges will accept a no-contest plea, so make sure your attorney is sure that the judge will accept this type of plea.
- Alford – the defendant claims innocence, but acknowledges that the evidence is sufficient to convict should the case go to a jury trial. The defendant accepts the prosecutor’s offer of an agreed upon plea deal, avoiding a jury trial. There are several problems with an Alford plea. First, it has an innocent person accepting punishment on a crime they claim they did not commit. That flies in the face of the entire concept of innocent till proven guilty. Second, the judiciary, probation, and a parole board all frown on someone that, in their eyes, refuses to take responsibility. So, although it may seem like a way to claim one’s innocence, it can sometimes make the punishment even greater down the road.
Guilty pleas, no contest pleas, and Alford pleas all result in criminal conviction without a trial by jury. Before entering any plea, it is critical that the defendant fully understand his or her rights under the law and the possible ramifications of each type of plea. This is why it is very important to find an attorney who understands criminal law and will take the time to explain your options fully and completely.