North Carolina v. Alford (1970) | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Procedural Law

North Carolina v. Alford (1970) is a landmark case in the criminal justice system that established the legal precedent for using the Alford plea in criminal cases.

An Alford plea is a type of guilty plea in which the defendant maintains their innocence but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict them.

In the case of North Carolina v. Alford, the defendant, Henry Alford, was charged with first-degree murder. Alford initially pleaded not guilty but later agreed to enter a guilty plea to second-degree murder under an Alford plea, which allowed him to maintain his innocence while acknowledging that the prosecution had enough evidence to potentially convict him of first-degree murder.

The case was significant because it established the legal precedent for using the Alford plea, which had previously been used only in limited circumstances. The Supreme Court held that a defendant may enter an Alford plea if they do so voluntarily and with a full understanding of the consequences of their plea. The Court also held that a defendant’s subjective belief in their innocence is not a bar to the entry of an Alford plea.

Today, the Alford plea is used in various criminal cases, particularly in cases where a defendant faces the risk of a more severe sentence if they proceed to trial and are convicted of a more serious offense. The Alford plea allows defendants to resolve their cases without admitting to the underlying criminal conduct while also avoiding the risks and uncertainties of a trial.

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Last Modified: 03/10/2023


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