It is not uncommon for Oklahoma prosecutors and defense attorneys to enter into plea negotiations before a criminal trial takes place. Making a plea deal can often save the state considerable time and resources that it would otherwise take to bring charges to trial, and also eliminates any sense of uncertainty about whether a jury would acquit the defendant altogether. For the defendant, a plea deal can lead to benefits such as avoiding the need to face more serious charges.
Plea negotiations take different forms, but most have the effect of agreeing to reduced charges in return for a guilty plea and a reduced sentence. There can exist a situation, though, in which plea negotiations can run into trouble: a defendant against whom the state has amassed considerable evidence, but who insists that he is innocent nonetheless. For ordinary plea negotiations, the requirement is that the defendant agree to plead guilty to something; is it still possible to negotiate for a reduced sentence while refusing to plead guilty to anything?
A way around this predicament is known as an “Alford plea“. This variant might be used when the prosecution has a strong enough case against the defendant that even the defense counsel thinks that the state has enough evidence to persuade a judge or jury that the defendant is guilty as charged, but the defendant does not formally plead guilty to the charge. The objective of the plea is that by agreeing to effectively plead guilty without formally doing so – in exchange for avoiding the need for a trial – the court will respond with a more lenient sentence.
Note, though, that the Alford plea is not without its detractors. Critics have claimed the following potential negative consequences to using it:
- It can result in a sentence that is actually harsher than a plea bargain based on a guilty plea.
- It may result in the revocation of probation if the defendant continues to maintain that he is innocent.
- Similarly, it can also make it harder for the defendant to be released on parole if he continues to maintain his innocence.
If courts see part of the objective of judicially-imposed punishment as rehabilitation, the use of an Alford plea may be construed to signify a lack of remorse. Yet on the other hand, if one truly believes that he is innocent, then it can be hard to show remorse for a crime that he supposedly did not commit.
Criminal defense is not always a matter of trial practice but also of negotiating. if you are charged with a crime, whether to enter into plea negotiations in general or to attempt an Alford plea in particular is a decision that you and your attorney must carefully consider given the nature of the charges and the relative strength of the prosecution’s evidence against you versus any exculpatory evidence or arguments that you may have, among other considerations. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to help you through these calculations with the object of securing the best possible outcome — acquittal, or otherwise — for your individual situation.