You’re likely familiar with the process of pleading during criminal trials. You can plead guilty (which is how the majority of criminal convictions occur), or not guilty, which usually means your case will be decided by way of a jury trial.
However, there is another option in Minnesota DWI cases and other criminal matters. An Alford plea is an alternative that does not involve admitting guilt. Instead, it allows you to acknowledge that a jury would likely find you guilty if you entered a not guilty plea and submit to the consequences of a conviction without actually admitting guilt.
So, when is an Alford plea in a Minnesota DWI case a good idea?
How Does a Minnesota Alford Plea Work?
Also known as a “best-interests plea,” an Alford plea is neither an admission of guilt nor a plea of innocence. The main advantage of this option over a not guilty plea is that it allows defendants to escape the harsher penalties that can follow a conviction at trial.
You must accept all the potential consequences of a guilty verdict when entering a Minnesota Alford plea. The court may impose a fine or custodial sentence, and you may still emerge with a criminal record.
Additionally, the court must agree to accept this course of action; you do not enjoy an automatic right to end criminal proceedings via an Alford plea as a defendant. In order for this type of plea to be valid, the court must determine that you made it because you intelligently came to the conclusion that it was the best option under the circumstances. Prosecutors must have a wealth of evidence at their disposal that supports the case against you.
The background to this area of the law comes from the US Supreme Court case of North Carolina vs. Alford. The defendant stood accused of first-degree murder, and there was a large amount of compelling evidence against him. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in order to avoid the death penalty, but maintained he was innocent of any crime. The Supreme Court ruled that courts should have the freedom to accept guilty pleas from defendants in this position.
Why Submit an Alford Plea?
While an Alford plea may not benefit you in the criminal case during which you submit it, it could work in your favor in a subsequent civil case. Say, for example, you’re convicted of a Minnesota DWI offense and a third party files a civil lawsuit against you on the basis of that offense, alleging they suffered harm as a result of your intoxicated driving. They could use a guilty plea against you in their lawsuit, claiming it amounts to an admission of guilt. An Alford plea could work in the favor of your defense team in this scenario.
How Does an Alford Plea Differ From a “No Contest” Plea?
A “no contest” plea, also called a “nolo contendere” plea, is similar to an Alford plea in that it allows you to accept the ramifications of a conviction without forcing you to factually admit guilt. However, there are some technical differences between the two.
Judges generally have to note the overwhelming strength of the prosecution’s case before accepting an Alford plea, as outlined above. This rule does not apply to no contest pleas. In both cases, judges must be satisfied that you understand the constitutional rights you are waiving by submitting the plea in question.
All American states except three (Indiana, New Jersey, and Michigan) accept Alford pleas. You should note that while Minnesota courts accept Alford pleas, they do not accept pleas of no contest.
If you’ve received a Minnesota DWI charge, you should seek the assistance of an expert attorney without delay. Contact us today to schedule a free initial review of your case.