Many people have heard of an Alford plea, but not many people truly understand what it means to make an Alford plea.The first important thing to note about an Alford plea is that it is not the same as a typical guilty plea in Minnesota. When an Alford plea is made, a defendant maintains their innocence, while also admitting that the government probably has sufficient evidence to convict, and that a strong factual basis exists for the plea. It is important to note that while an Alford plea allows a defendant to technically maintain their innocence, it does not protect them from punishment or a criminal record.
In order to properly enter an Alford plea, there are several steps that must be properly completed. The first is that a defendant must specifically state that they are entering an Alford plea and that they understand what it means to enter an Alford plea. Then the defendant will be questioned, either by the judge or the attorneys, in order to establish that the defendant is entering a plea voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. These questions are as follows:
1. Have you read the complaint, police reports, and other evidence in the case?
2. Do you understand that at trial the government's witnesses would testify that (summary of the government's case, including statements from police reports and/or witness statements) occurred?
3. Do you believe the evidence the government would present is sufficient for a jury to find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?
4. Are you entering you plea in order to take advantage of a plea bargain offered by the government?
If these questions are not asked, or the answers are not adequately provided, an Alford plea may be vulnerable to attack on appeal because it was not entered voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. A recent unpublished decision from the Minnesota Court of Appeals highlights the requirements for making an Alford plea.
In State v. Knowles, the defendant entered an Alford plea to one count of identity theft. The district court accepted the defendant's Alford plea. Later, the defendant made two separate motions to withdraw his Alford plea, arguing that there was an inadequate factual basis to satisfy the element of intent and that there was an inadequate factual basis to support that any of the alleged victims suffered loss or harm. Both motions were denied and he appealed to the Court of Appeals.
In their review of the record, the Court of Appeals found that there was a sufficient factual basis to support the intent and harm or loss elements. As a result they upheld the defendant's Alford plea as valid because it was entered voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently.
An Alford plea can be a useful tool to criminal defense counsel, criminal defendants, and prosecutors. However, an Alford plea is a complex tool and must be properly understood and entered in order to be effectively used. If you have a pending criminal charge, contact the attorneys of Olson Defense at (952) 835-1088.