Plea Options in Oklahoma: The Alford Plea

Last week, an Okarche man accused of raping a 14-year old girl entered an Alford plea in Kingfisher County District Court.  District Judge Paul Woodward found Matthew Mallory, 36, guilty of two counts each of first degree rape and sexual abuse of a child, sentencing him to serve four consecutive life sentences for the crimes of which he was convicted.

Mallory was accused of sexually assaulting the alleged victim beginning when she was 9 years old, and is also accused of assaulting three other girls. An Alford plea is one of four plea options available to criminal defendants in Oklahoma.

  • Not Guilty - in which a defendant proclaims his or her innocence, and the case goes to trial
  • Guilty - in which the defendant admits to committing the crime and allows the judge to determine the sentence, avoiding a jury trial
  • No Contest (Nolo Contendere) - in which the defendant neither admits nor denies guilt, but acknowledges that the evidence is sufficient to convict, should the case go to trial.  As in the case of a guilty plea, the defendant's fate is determined by a judge.
  • Alford - in which a defendant proclaims his or her innocence, yet acknowledges that the evidence is sufficient to convict should the case go to a jury 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.
Any defendant in a criminal case should be certain that his or her defense lawyer carefully explains the different options and explains the pros and cons of each in relation to the specific details of his or her own case. Of the above options, the Alford plea is the most controversial.  

According to law professor Albert W. Alschuler, in a 2003 article for the Cornell Law Review, "Alford pleas are awful. There could hardly be a clearer violation of due process than sending someone to prison who has neither been found guilty nor admitted his guilt. If anything short of torture can shock your conscience, Alford pleas should."  

However, the Alford plea may have important benefits for defendants who understand that the evidence seems stacked against them, and who hope for the mercy of the court during sentencing and for later exoneration. 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 showed that Alford went home to get a gun and stated his intention of killing the victim.  

However, Alford denied killing the man.  Though he was expected to plead guilty at his trial, Alford maintained his innocence, even while entering his guilty plea.  Alford was so afraid of receiving the death penalty if his case went to trial, that he pleaded guilty to a crime that he claimed he did not commit.  When  asked to enter his plea, Alford said:

I pleaded guilty on second degree murder because they said there is too much evidence, but I ain’t shot no man, but I take the fault for the other man. We never had an argument in our life and I just pleaded guilty because they said if I didn’t they would gas me for it, and that is all.

 

When a discussion ensued over whether or not Henry Alford had been properly informed of his rights, he re-iterated that his attorney had counseled him that a guilty plea was in his best interest.   When  asked if he understood his plea, he responded to his attorney, "Well, I’m still pleading that you all got me to plead guilty. I plead the other way, circumstantial evidence; that the jury will prosecute me on - on the second. You told me to plead guilty, right. I don’t - I’m not guilty but I plead guilty.’’  Alford was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to thirty years in prison, thus avoiding the death penalty he faced if he went to trial on first degree murder charges.

Understand Your Rights Under the Law

Guilty pleas, no contest pleas, and Alford pleas all result in criminal conviction without a trial by jury.  Before entering any plea, it is critical that the defendant fully understand his or her rights under the law and the possible ramifications of each type of plea.  Consult a qualified attorney before making ANY sort of plea.  For more information go to the Phillips & Associates homepage.

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