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What is an "Alford plea?"

It is not uncommon for Missouri prosecutors and defense attorneys to enter into plea negotiations before a criminal trial takes place. Making a plea deal can often save the state considerable time and resources that it would otherwise take to bring charges to trial, and also eliminates any sense of uncertainty about whether a jury would acquit the defendant altogether. For the defendant, a plea deal can lead to benefits such as avoiding the need to face more serious charges, and in some situations, such as "wet reckless" negotiated deals, the possibility of not having a DUI conviction appear on their records.

Plea negotiations take different forms, but most have the effect of agreeing to reduce charges in return for a guilty plea and a reduced sentence. One variation that is used on occasion in Missouri is known as an "Alford plea." This variant might be used when the prosecution has a strong enough case against the defendant that even the defense counsel thinks that the state has enough evidence to persuade a judge or jury that the defendant is guilty as charged, but the defendant does not formally plead guilty to the charge. 

An Alford plea may be attempted when reduced-charge plea negotiations are either not undertaken or prove unsuccessful. The objective of the defense is that by agreeing to effectively plead guilty without formally doing so, in exchange for avoiding the need for a trial the court will respond with a more lenient sentence. Note, though, that the court is not obligated to accept an Alford plea, and in Missouri many judges in fact do not do so.

Criminal defense is not always a matter of trial practice but also of negotiating. if you are charged with a crime, whether to enter into plea negotiations in general or to attempt an Alford plea in particular is a decision that you and your attorney must carefully consider given the nature of the charges and the relative strength of the prosecution's evidence against you versus any exculpatory evidence or arguments that you may have, among other considerations. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to help you through these calculations with the object of securing the best possible outcome -- acquittal, or otherwise -- for your individual situation.


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Travis Noble is a graduate of the National College for DUI Defense at Harvard University, and he lectures at seminars nationwide on DWI/DUI topics. He is the lawyer whom other lawyers consult to defend their DWI clients. Most importantly, he has a track record of successfully defending some of the toughest DWI cases in Missouri and beyond.

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