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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Alford Plea Bargains

I was reading some criminal defense attorney blogs. One author was mentioned that his client accepted an "Alford Plea Bargain".

An Alford Plea Bargain occurs when a defendant accepts a plea bargain for tactical reasons, even if he believes he is factually innocent. Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court has ruled that plea bargains made for tactical reasons are valid.

The term "Alford Plea Bargain" comes from Henry Alford. He was accused of murder. If he went to trial and lost, he might have faced the death penalty. If he accepted a plea bargain, he would get 30 years to life. For tactical reasons, Alford accepted the plea bargain, even though he asserted he was innocent.

Under North Carolina state law, you could enter a plea bargain "nolo", without admitting guilt. Federal plea bargains usually require the defendant to admit guilt as part of the plea bargain. "The criminal admits guilt" is important, because it affirms the legitimacy of the State. The defendant didn't plead guilty for tactical reasons. He did it because he was actually guilty. Innocent people are never charged with crimes.

Alford appealed. He argued that he was coerced into accepting the plea bargain. He got a lighter sentence pleading guilty than he would have received by going to trial and losing. Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court ruled against him. Even though he didn't admit guilt, the plea agreement was a valid contract.

Plea bargains enable State prosecutors to abuse their power. Usually, the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge, leading to a lighter sentence. Sentencing guidelines impose an extra penalty on someone who goes to trial and loses, compared to someone who pleads guilty for the same charge. According to Federal sentencing guidelines, extra time is added to your sentence if you testify in self-defense and are convicted! There is a penalty for choosing to testify in your own trial! For a politically-motivated prosecution, the judge always has the discretion to impose a harsher sentence than what the guidelines suggest.

The rules for criminal trials are biased against defendants. One criminal defense attorney, when asked by a prospective client, "What's my chance of getting acquitted?" always answers "50%". A trial is a crapshoot. It depends on the judge. It depends on who gets selected as a juror.

I read that, in some politically-motivated trials, undercover State agents try to get planted as jurors! With a jury selection pool of 200+ for some cases, it's very likely many State employees will be there. Direct State employees get full salary and benefits while serving on a jury, giving them no incentive to get out of jury duty. Workers in the productive sector typically don't get paid for jury duty, or are inconveniencing their coworkers. In my current wage slave job, I don't get paid for jury duty. That gives me a financial incentive to get out of it.

The legal system is biased against criminal defendants. They are coerced into accepting plea bargains. A pro-State troll says "Lots of plea bargains are good! That shows that only criminals are prosecuted!" That also might be a symptom of a broken system.

The USA leads the world in prison population, both on an absolute basis and on a per-capita basis. By that measure, the USA is a far less free society than China or any other country.

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