What Is an Alford Plea in a Georgia Criminal Case?
When a person is formally charged with a crime in Georgia, the court will ask the defendant to enter a plea. Normally, the defendant will plead either “guilty” or “not guilty.” In some cases, the defendant may enter a plea of nolo contendere or “no contest.” This basically means that the defendant does not admit guilt, but they acknowledge the state has sufficient evidence to convict. As a result, the defendant has decided to accept punishment.
There is also a fourth option known as an Alford plea. The name comes from a 1970 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, North Carolina v. Alford. In that case, a defendant facing a capital murder charge agreed to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty while maintaining he was innocent. The Supreme Court held such a plea was valid.
Today, Alford pleas are sometimes entered in Georgia felony cases. Based on the Alford decision, there are certain rules that courts must follow before accepting such a plea. The defendant must have competent legal representation. The prosecution must demonstrate there is “strong evidence” of the defendant’s guilt. And the judge must be satisfied that the defendant intelligently and voluntarily decided to enter such a plea.
Even then, a judge can reject an Alford plea. There are, in fact, some judges who will never accept such pleas. This usually stems from the belief that a defendant should not be allowed to simultaneously proclaim their innocence while accepting punishment for the alleged crime.
Georgia Woman Denied Option of Withdrawing Alford Plea
If a Georgia judge accepts an Alford plea, however, it can be extremely difficult for the defendant to subsequently change their mind and withdraw the plea. Consider this recent example from the Georgia Court of Appeals. In McCallum v. State, prosecutors charged a woman with making terroristic threats and aggravated assault based on two separate occasions involving the same accuser.
In brief, prosecutors presented evidence that the defendant got into an argument with the accuser at a laundromat. During the fight, the defendant threatened to “blow your effing head off.” A few months later, there was another apparent confrontation between the defendant and the accuser at a gas station. They exchanged words, and the defendant then allegedly got into her car and struck the accuser.
The defendant decided to enter an Alford plea to the charge of making a terroristic threat. (She separately pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault.) The court accepted the plea. Two days later, however, the defendant asked to withdraw the Alford plea, which she now insisted was “not knowingly and voluntarily made.” The judge denied the request.
On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision. The appellate court noted that the defendant had discussed the Alford plea with her attorney “numerous times” and that she had been advised by the court of the consequences of entering such a plea. Furthermore, the state presented sufficient evidence to establish a factual basis for the plea–i.e., the defendant made a verbal threat to murder the accuser.
Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today
You should never enter a plea in any criminal proceeding without first consulting a qualified Georgia assault lawyer who can advise you of your options and the potential consequences of a conviction. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.