Philip J. Outhier, Attorney at Law

 

When charged with a crime in the state of Oklahoma, the matter can be resolved in three different ways. The matter may be dismissed by the prosecuting attorney if he or she finds that the evidence is not sufficient to go forward to trial. In addition, the matter may be tried to a jury to determine the guilt or innocence of the criminal defendant. Lastly, a criminal defendant may agree to a plea with the prosecutor.

Four pleas are typically available to a criminal defendant. A “not guilty” is a plea in which a criminal defendant proclaims his or her innocence as the case proceeds to conclusion. A “guilty” plea is a plea in which the defendant admits to committing a crime and allows a judge to determine a sentence to be imposed. In this scenario, the criminal defendant avoids participating in a jury trial. A “no contest or nolo contendere” plea is one in which the criminal defendant neither admits nor denies guilt, but acknowledges that the evidence presented by the prosecutor is sufficient to convict him or her should the case go to trial. As in the case of the “guilty” plea, the criminal defendant’s fate is determined by the judge. The most uncommon and controversial plea available in a criminal matter is the “Alford” plea. An “Alford” plea is a plea in which the criminal defendant proclaims his or her innocence, yet acknowledges the evidence is sufficient to convict him or her should the case go to trial. As in the case of a “guilty” plea or plea of “no contest,” the case avoids jury trial and the defendant’s fate is determined by a judge.

The “Alford” plea was established in 1963 after Henry C. Alford was accused of first degree murder. Though there were no witnesses to the crime, witness testimony reflected that Alford obtained a firearm and stated his intention of killing the victim. However, Alford denied that he killed the victim. As the case progressed, Alford was expected to plead guilty to the charge levied against him. Instead, Alford maintained his innocence while entering a plea of “guilty.” In short, he pled “guilty” to a crime he claimed he did not commit.

The “Alford” plea is the most controversial of all pleas in the criminal context. Some legal commentators have referred to “Alford” pleas as “awful,” claiming them to be a violation of criminal defendant’s due process rights. However, the “Alford” plea plays a significant role in the criminal justice system and may offer a benefit to a criminal defendant who understands the prosecutors’ evidence is stacked against them and is hoping for the mercy of the court at the time of sentencing or for later exoneration from the crime.

For additional information, contact attorney Philip J. Outhier of Outhier & Caruthers, PLLC, at 580-234-6300 or pouthier@enidoklawyers.com.

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