Can I Plead No Contest in Idaho? What Is An Alford Plea?

Sometimes defendants want to plead guilty and take advantage of an offer by the prosecution, even though they honestly feel that they are not guilty.  This usually happens in cases where the prosecution offers a particularly favorable plea settlement, and the defendant believes there is a strong likelihood of being convicted at a jury trial.

In some States the defendant has the option of pleading “no contest”. In other words, the Defendant will agree to not contest the case while conceding to serve a particular sentence.  Idaho does not accept “no contest” pleas. Idaho however does allow defendants to enter “Alford pleas“.

An Alford plea is a plea where the defendant maintains his innocence, but pleads guilty anyway because of the overwhelming evidence against him. When pleading guilty pursuant to an Alford plea, Idaho requires a substantial factual basis for the plea. If there isn’t a factual basis for the plea, then the courts will reject the guilty plea, and the defendant’s case will continue on to a jury trial.

Courts are given wide discretion when it comes to accepting or rejecting Alford pleas. Some judges have their own policies regarding Alford pleas. For example, some judges will not accept an Alford plea unless there is some evidence that the defendant has no recollection of what happened, for example the defendant was too intoxicated to remember what happened.

Make no mistake, an Alford plea is a guilty plea for all intents and purposes. Alford pleas can often carry with them unintended consequences. So you might want to think twice before you enter into an Alford plea.

For example, in sex offense cases, part of the sex offense treatment is “accepting responsibility for what you did“. And if you refuse to do so, you can fail treatment and end up having your probation violated. So in the end you will have to admit that you did it anyway. Or if you go to prison, the parole board may not let you out on parole unless you admit guilt.

Another negative consequence I have seen stemming from entering into an Alford plea is that it tends to convince presentence investigators, and ultimately judges, into believing that you are not taking responsibility for what you did.  This results in stiffer penalties, despite the plea agreement you entered into with the prosecutor.

Really there are few practical positive consequences to entering into an Alford plea rather than a normal guilty plea. Most people enter into them because they refuse to admit to something they didn’t do. Some sense of pride prevents them from doing such a thing. But if your pride prevents you from admitting to something you didn’t do, then why would you take responsibility for something you didn’t do?

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