Alford Pleas aka Best Interest Pleas

This article details a sad story about prosecutors breaking the law and an innocent man  being compelled to plead guilty in order to gain his freedom.

Earlier this year, after decades of fighting his appeals, the Connecticut state’s attorney’s office finally conceded that the evidence against him might be tainted. The prosecutors agreed to let him go — if he took a deal. At the heart of the deal was something called an Alford plea, an odd legal paradox that required Mr. Harris to formally plead guilty to a set of lesser crimes, but not admit that he had actually committed them. After Mr. Harris played his role in this courtroom drama, the judge reduced his sentence to the years that he had served. Mr. Harris was freed on Tuesday evening, in time to spend Thanksgiving with his family.

In this instance, the Alford plea process was abused; because of the Brady violations, this case should have been dismissed, IMO. (“In Mr. Harris’s case, the prosecutor who tried the matter had not disclosed exculpatory evidence. Scientific testing also showed that DNA on the victim’s clothes could not have come from him. The victim failed at first to pick out Mr. Harris in a photograph array, but then, at trial, identified him for the first time as the man who had attacked her.”) However, occasionally, an Alford plea may be best.

An Alford plea is also known as a best interest plea. It is a plea whereby a person does not admit committing a crime; however, he still pleads guilty and is convicted. Why would a person do this? Sometimes, because of the threat of large sentence or “trial tax,” its in the accused “best interest” to take a plea agreement to a lesser charge or lower sentence.

These pleas though still have all the collateral consequences of a normal conviction. If a person enters an Alford plea to a felony, they will be considered a felon and have all the disabilities which that designation affords. If a person enters a best interest plea to a sex offense, they will still be a registered sex offender.

The article details another discouraging reality of modern criminal law:

In recent years, plea bargains of all sorts have dominated the criminal-justice system: They now account for almost 95 percent of the final dispositions in felony cases across the nation. Even the Supreme Court has acknowledged their pre-eminence, writing in 2012 that “criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials.”