Ohio DUI Law: What is an “Alford” Plea

English: West face of the United States Suprem...

An “Alford plea” is a specialized type of guilty plea when the defendant, although pleading guilty, continues to deny his or her guilt but enters the guilty plea because the defendant believes that the offered sentence is better than what the outcome of a trial is likely to be. State v. Schmidt, 3d Dist. No. 10- 10-04, 2010-Ohio-4809, ¶13. See, also, State v. Piacella (1971), 27 Ohio St.2d 92, 271 N.E.2d 852. The term “Alford plea” originated with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in North Carolina v. Alford (1971), 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162, wherein the Supreme Court held that guilty pleas linked with claims of innocence may be accepted provided the “defendant intelligently concludes that his interests require entry of a guilty plea and the record before the judge contains strong evidence of actual guilt.” Id., 400 U.S. at 37, 91 S.Ct. at 167, 27 L.Ed.2d at 171. Although an Alford plea allows a defendant to maintain his factual innocence, the plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea. State v. Vogelsong, 3d Dist. No. 5-06-60, 2007-Ohio-4935, ¶15.  All pleas, including an Alford plea, must meet the general requirement that the defendant knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his or her right to trial. See, e.g., State v. Padgett (1990), 67 Ohio App.3d 332, 337-38, 586 N.E.2d 1194, construing Crim.R. 11(C). Because pleas accompanied by protestations of innocence give rise to an inherent suspicion that a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver may not have occurred, an Alford plea places a heightened duty upon the trial court to ensure that the defendant’s rights are protected and that entering the plea is a rational decision on the part of the defendant. Id. [taken from State v. Carey, 2011-Ohio-1998]

In an Alford plea, the trial court must ensure that a defendant has made a rational calculation to plead guilty despite protestation of innocence by inquiring into the factual basis for the plea. Alford at 38. Therefore, “before accepting a guilty plea, a court must: ‘1) question the defendant as to his reasons for deciding to plead guilty and 2) inquire into the state’s evidence in order to determine that the likelihood of a conviction on offenses of equal or greater magnitude than the offenses to which the defendant entered a plea is great enough to warrant such a decision.'” State v. Bryant, 6th Dist No. L-03-1359, 2005-Ohio-3352, ¶ 9, citing State v. Nicely (June 3, 2000), 6th Dist. No. F-99-014.  The purpose of Crim.R. 11(C)(2) is to ensure the defendant has the information needed to make a voluntary and intelligent decision regarding whether to plead guilty. State v. Ballard (1981), 66 Ohio St.2d 473, 479-480. When advising a defendant of his constitutional rights, a trial court must strictly comply with Crim.R. 11(C)(2)(c). State v. Veney, 120 Ohio St.3d 176, 2008-Ohio-5200, ¶ 21. Substantial compliance is insufficient. Id. Failure of the trial court to comply strictly with Crim.R. 11(C)(2)(c) constitutes a reversible or prejudicial error which renders the plea invalid. Id. at ¶ 29. Ohio Courts have consistently held that a guilty plea entered pursuant to Alford, supra, is procedurally indistinguishable from a guilty plea. State v. McDay (May 9, 1997), 6th Dist. No. L-96-027, see also State v. Battigaglia, 2010-Ohio-802.

Alford pleas make up a small percentage of all plea bargains in the U.S, as some jurisdictions outside of Ohio do not accept this type of plea bargain. The United States military courts do not allow military personnel to enter an Alford plea. Studies of prison inmate cases reveal that five percent of federal inmates and 17 percent of state inmates arrived there through Alford or nolo contendere pleas. These statistics reflect the relative differences between the state and federal courts in their willingness to accept alternative pleas.

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