What kinds of options do you have in regard to pleas in a court room and what do they mean? There are a lot of thing that are confusing about the criminal justice system, however, understanding your rights and options when it comes to making a plea is relatively easy to understand and can make a huge difference in aiding you in your own defense. There are three different kinds of pleas that are accepted in the Colorado legal system. These three pleas are;
- Plea of not guilty
- Plea of guilty
- Alford plea or No Contest Plea
Plea of Not Guilty
Entering a plea of not guilty is to say that you did not commit the charges against you. A plea of not guilty is to say that you are in fact, innocent of all charges. When formal charges are brought against you, this can be referred to as arraignment; you have the opportunity to make a plea. A plea of not guilty means the judge will set a trial date and you and your attorney will get ready to fight the charges. When making a plea of not guilty the presumption of innocents is on your side, meaning you are to be presumed innocent through out the entire trial, until the jury comes back with a verdict. It is the prosecutions job to show beyond a reasonable doubt, that there is evidence to show you did in fact commit the crime. The defendant is not required to make any sort of case; it all lies on the prosecution to prove that you are in fact guilty. The right to plea not guilty is legally protected by a defendant’s Fifth and Sixth Amendments rights, the right against self incrimination, the right to confront your accuser, as well as the right to a trial by a jury of your peers. If the defendant refuses to enter any kind of plea, the judge has no choice but to enter a not guilty plea on the defendant’s behalf. This can also happen if the judge refuses to accept a plea agreement that might have been made between the prosecution and the defense. All plea’s of not guilty go to trial.
Plea of Guilty
This is the more common type of plea. A plea of guilty is usually made after some sort of negotiation between the defense and the prosecution. For example, the prosecution may reduce some of the charges in order to avoid going to trial and to resolve the case more efficiently. There is also just a straight plea of guilty; this is a plea with no negations or compromises for example, when some one confesses to a crime. When you make a plea of guilty you waive your fifth and sixth amendment rights as well as the right to any sort of appeal. Guilty pleas allow for the prosecution to receive a conviction as well as the defendant getting a less severe punishment. However, you should always consult a criminal defense attorney before accepting a plea bargain. Any judge has the discretion to reject a plea of guilty and set a matter for jury trial.
Alford Plea or No Contest
An Alford plea or no contest plea is a guilty plea with out admitting to the act being charged. It’s admitting that the prosecution could potentially prove your guilt but you maintain innocence against the charges. One reason for this kind of plea is to avoid a more serious charge. For example, if a defendant has no recollection of the events due to intoxication or amnesia. An Alford plea allows the defendant to plea guilty while unable or unwilling to admit guilt. Another reason for an Alford plea is to avoid civil consequences. The standard of guilt in a criminal case, beyond a reasonable doubt, is much higher than the standard of guilt in a civil case, beyond the preponderance of the evidence. There fore, if you are found guilty in the criminal case, it would be very easy to prove your guilt in a civil case. An Alford plea allows you to resolve the criminal case without being found guilty in the civil case just based on the resolution of the criminal case alone.
An example of this kind of case is in North Carolina v. Alford. Mr. Alford was charged with first degree murder and was facing the death penalty if convicted by a Jury. There was substantial evidence against Mr. Alford. He chose to enter an Alford plea to avoid the death penalty, and was sentenced to 30 years, the maximum sentence to second degree murder, which was a part of his plea bargain. The Court of Appeals stated that the trial court erred in accepting the plea of guilty because it was not made voluntarily due to the fact that the defendant was “so gripped by fear of the death penalty”. The Supreme Court upheld the trial courts ruling of accepting the plea of guilty. “The Supreme Court concluded that “[i]n view of the strong factual basis for the plea demonstrated by the State and Alford’s clearly expressed desire to enter it despite his professed belief in his innocence,” there was no error in accepting the plea.”
It is always in your best interest, however, to consult a criminal attorney before making such a plea. It is also up to the judge’s discretion to accept all guilty pleas.
By Shannon Lynch