Guilty of a Crime: Different Methods of Arriving at the Same Outcome:
Today's Letter is G- I am discussing Guilty Pleas
Every person accused of a crime is presumed innocent, until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We've all heard this, many times or seen it on a film or television. There is, however another way for the status of the accused to change from innocent to guilty: The Guilty Plea
As with every area of the law, it is not always as simple as it sounds and a guilty plea is no exception. One would think that pleading guilty to a crime would be a simple matter, right. Well, the judge cannot just adjudicate a person guilty; he cannot simply accept a a defendant's guilty plea. Before a judge can accept a guilty plea, he must be convinced that there is a factual basis for the plea (in some states, the prosecutor must demonstrate the prima facia case they would prove, if they had proceeded to trial.) What is a factual basis, you ask? It is basically s summary of the facts. "Your honor, had we gone to trial, the state was prepared to offer the following evidence of the defendant's guilt, yada yada, yada.)
In addition, many jurisdictions, also require the defendant, allocute (formally declare) his wrongdoing. Furthermore, the judge must engage the defendant in colloquy, a short discussion to ensure that the accused understands the effects of his plea and all of the constitutional rights that he is giving up, by entering the guilty plea.
What if my character is charged with murder and the prosecution has a boat load of evidence against her, but she still maintains her innocence. Can she enter a guilty plea to a lesser charge and still maintain her innocence?
Generally, the court cannot accept a guilty plea while you are shouting your innocence. But, as we have already learned, there are always exceptions to every rule. Here, we have two exceptions.
1. Nolo Contendere Plea - "No Contest"
2. Alford Plea
The difference is small, but notable. In a No Contest plea, the accused refuses to admit guilt. It is sort of like, "I neither admit, nor deny these charges." In an Alford Plea, the accused, actively asserts innocence.
Why would a character enter either a plea of Nolo Contendere or and Alford plea and what is the effect of the plea?
A plea of No Contest is often entered for offenses, when the accused recognizes that the criminal penalties are light compared to the cost of a trial and the potential civil penalties. A Nolo Contendere plea, cannot be used against the accused, as an admission of guilt, in a subsequent civil suit arising out of the same conduct from which the criminal prosecution was based.
Example: Your character is speeding and driving reckless and is involved in an accident which kills the other driver. If the state and the judge allow your character to enter a Nolo Contendere plea, and the surviving family members of the deceased victim institute a wrongful death action against your character in civil court, the civil proceeding will continue, but as if your character never admitted wrongdoing in the criminal matter.
Example: Mel Gibson gets angry with a member of the paparazzo for taking his photo while he is doing something he should not be doing, so he grabs the photographer and smashes his camera onto the sidewalk and stomps it to pieces. Then he pummels the guy in the face. Gibson is charged with Battery (remember the definition of a battery from my letter B post). The state can undoubtedly prove the case of battery against Gibson, but if he enters a plea of guilty, it can be used as an admission against him if the photographer files a civil suit against him, for monetary damages. Instead, Gibson, enters a No Contest plea, so that his plea cannot be used as an admission of guilt.
Alford Plea: Your character can plead guilty, while maintaining his/her innocence, if they admit, that it is in their best interest to plead guilty (usually to a lesser offense than the one charged), to avoid the stiffer penalty, they would receive if they did in fact proceed to trial and were found guilty. They are basically saying, "Yo, judge, I am innocent, but the state somehow has an airtight case against me and they will probably win at trial, so I don't want to roll the dice. I'm not saying I did it because I didn't do it, but since the state is allowing me to plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter, I'm taking it, to avoid a possible murder conviction."
The judge must agree to accept an Alford plea or plea of Nolo Cotendere, and the judge must still be convinced that the accused is tendering the plea, freely and voluntarily.
Effects of Alford and Nolo Contendere Plea:
Exactly the same as a guilty plea or if the jury returned a verdict of guilty. A No Contest plea counts as a criminal conviction for enhancement purposes. In some instances, an Alford Pleal, can prevent the conviction from being used in subsequent cases as an enhancement. This involves the three strike law and crimes which involve enhanced penalties for subsequent violations, such as DWI and theft. It is far too detailed to go into in this blog post.
There is one additional type of guilty plea that I am going to briefly discuss.
A Crosby Plea: A somewhat conditional plea of guilt
The trial court often entertains pre-trial motions. The defense often file numerous motions, including, but not limited to, a motion to suppress illegally obtained evidence, motion to suppress evidence obtained without s search warrant, motion to suppress a search warrant and the evidence seized, motion to suppress an illegally obtained confession and all of the evidence obtained as a result of information obtained from the accused during his confession that was illegally obtained. There are far too many types of motions for me to cover here, but suffice it to say, the most significant motions offered by the defense, seek to exclude evidence, witnesses, statements or a combination of all.
Suppose that the crux of the prosecutor's case consist of damaging evidence found at the accused's home. In our hypo- your character was taken to the police station and questioned. He repeatedly asked for an attorney, but his request was denied. That's an easy one, the police must cease all questioning, the moment an accused asserts his right to an attorney. In our case, your character did not get an attorney and after thirty hours of grueling interrogation he finally confessed to killing his wife and told the police officers exactly where they could find her body and the murder weapon. Based on his confession, the police locate the body and obtain a search warrant to search his home and discovered the murder weapon and the victim's bloody clothing and a host of other pieces of incriminating evidence.
Obviously, if the defendant goes to trial with the above facts, he will likely be convicted. So he files a motion to suppress the confession and all of the illegally obtained evidence resulting from his confession. The trial court denies his motion. An accused, has an automatic right of appeal, after a conviction. In this case, we can assume he will be convicted. On appeal he will challenge the confession and the subsequent warrant and seized evidence. Because the state's case depends mostly upon the the very evidence that the accused asserts is inadmissible, and the evidence is enough to convict him, he has another option. The accused can enter a guilty "Crosby" plea. Which means, "I am pleading guilty because you will convict me on the facts, but I do not give up my right to challenge the admissibility of the evidence."
The defendant will then appeal the trial court's denial of the motion to suppress. In the example above, a higher court will likely concluded that the trial court was wrong and will reverse the decision of the trial court and rule that the confession was illegally obtained and as a result, the other evidence is "fruit of the poisonous tree," and should be excluded, as well. The state would unlikely retry the defendant, in this case because they no longer have any evidence.
A Crosby guilty plea allows the defendant to plead guilty and simultaneously reserve his right to appellate review of the trial court's ruling on a pre-trial motion. A defendant, normally gives up his appellate rights, as a condition of a plea. A Crosby plea is an exception to that rule of law.
My Bonus A to Z Bucket List- Letter G
Bathe in Ganges River
Go to all four Major Golf Tournaments: Masters, U.S. Open, British Open & PGA Championship
Now head over to the A to Z blogging challenge, list of participants and check out some new blogs.
And let's give it up for our host and founder of the this awesome challenge, Arlee Bird.
Sources: NORTH CAROLINA v. ALFORD, 400 U.S. 25 (1970)
State v. Crosby, 338 So. 2d 584 (La. 1976)