4 Types of Criminal Pleas: What is the Difference?

December 07, 2021 by Sabah Khalaf

Whenever you make the decision to plead on a case, there are more options than just “guilty” or “innocent.” You can also Blind Plea, plead no contest, and enter an Alford plea. Each type of plea is different, and may be a better fit for you and your case.

The Blind Plea

A blind plea occurs when you choose to enter a guilty plea without accepting the recommendation from the State. This means if the prosecutor is offering you a plea deal of 1 year of probation and you believe you can get a better deal than that from the judge, you can enter a blind plea. When entering a blind plea, you plead guilty to the judge without a set deal from the State. This means the judge can sentence you to any punishment up to the statutory maximum for that crime.

Once you have entered a blind plea, the judge may not immediately sentence you. Sometimes the judge will accept your plea and pass the sentencing. This means the plea of guilty has been entered, but you will come back on a separate day in order to hear what your punishment is. This can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes people want to enter their plea, but choose to wait on sentencing because they know there is a chance they will be sentenced to jail time. When facing jail time people often want a few days or weeks to settle their affairs at home and make sure everything is in order.

Sometimes the State passes sentencing. The State may choose to pass sentencing if the case involves a victim, because victims have a statutory right to provide a victim impact statement at sentencing. A victim impact statement may be written or read aloud during court and can either be read by the victim or a representative for the victim. This representative can be a lawyer, family member, or an employee from the District Attorney’s office. This statement will be read before sentencing so the judge can consider it.

Another reason the State may pass sentencing is for a sentencing brief. On a blind plea, both sides have the right to a sentencing brief. This is simply a written document that includes the facts of the case, a request for a particular sentence, and an argument about why that sentence would be appropriate in this case. If one side chooses to write a sentencing brief, the other side will typically write a response, which can lead to a substantial amount of time between the plea and the actual sentencing.

Entering a blind plea can be risky. By entering a blind plea, you plead guilty without any idea of what the punishment may be. Typically, judges will be more lenient than if you were found guilty at trial. However, the judge can sentence you within the full range of punishment. The judge is not required to match the offer the District Attorney gave you, and the District Attorney may change their recommendation when you decide to not take their deal. Nonetheless, if you believe the deal the State is offering you is unfair but you still want to plead guilty, a blind plea is the best option.

The No Contest Plea

A no contest plea is similar to a guilty plea, with a few minor distinctions. When you choose to enter a plea of no contest you are accepting the offer from the State in its entirety. The terms of your plea (e.g. jail time, etc) do not change whether you choose to plead guilty or no contest. Additionally, it does not affect enhancement of predicate offenses. A predicate offense is an offense for which the punishment becomes more severe if you already have a conviction on your record for that same offense. Some examples of predicate offenses are: Driving under the Influence, Larceny of Merchandise from a Retailer, and Domestic Assault and Battery.

So what’s the difference? By pleading no contest, you enter a plea and accept the State’s offer, but do not admit to being guilty of the crime alleged. You are acknowledging that the State has enough evidence to prove you guilty at trial, but you are not agreeing that you are guilty. While it makes it easier to enter a plea to a crime you feel you were justified in committing, it doesnt change the outcome of the plea at all. It is legally the exact same as entering a plea of guilty for the purposes of a conviction.

While a no contest plea doesn’t change the requirements on probation, the State is not required to give you the same plea deal with a no contest plea as it does with a guilty plea. For example, the State will regularly not let you plead no contest on a domestic assault with probation; they will only allow no contest pleas on domestic assaults with jail time. This may seem like they are merely trying to punish you for entering a no contest plea, but the State often has a good reason for treating no content pleas differently. By statute everyone who pleads to domestic assault and battery MUST participate in the Batterers Intervention Program. The very first step in this program is admitting that you did in fact commit the domestic assault and battery. The State will not allow you to plead no contest and enter this program, knowing you will not admit that you committed this crime. For those reasons, the punishment would change with a no contest plea. However, you would know of this change before entering the plea, and can discuss this with your attorney to determine whether that is the right decision for you.

The Alford Plea

An Alford plea is very unusual, and very rarely seen in criminal law today. An Alford plea is when you enter a plea to the State’s recommendation as if you are guilty, but maintain your innocence. Unlike with a no contest plea, you are not merely acknowledging that the state can prove you guilty, you are asserting that you are entirely innocent.

Many prosecutors will not allow you to enter an Alford plea to the recommendation they offer. This is because there is a difference of opinion regarding whether or not an Alford plea on a predicate offense will attach a conviction for the purposes of enhancement. While the law does permit an Alford plea to be used to enhance the next case, some prosecutors feel that is improper since it is not an acknowledgement of guilt.

Other prosecutors will forbid Alford pleas for policy reasons. Their job is intended to serve justice, and allowing an innocent person to plead guilty to a crime they did not commit isn’t justice.

The Guilty Plea

This is the most common type of plea in a criminal case. Normally if you enter a plea, this is the plea you are entering. While your requirements on probation or your length of jail time will not differ regardless of what plea you choose to enter, this is the only type of plea that will guarantee you the plea deal the prosecutor offered.

The Bottom Line

If you like the offer from the prosecutor, but don't feel comfortable entering a guilty plea, you do have options to enter a plea without admitting guilt. Conversely, if you are wanting to enter a plea, but don't like the plea offer from the prosecutor, you can enter a blind plea and be sentenced by the judge.

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