Alford Pleas

Alford-pleaIn criminal cases in Illinois, there are two types of guilty pleas available: regular guilty pleas and Alford pleas. In an Alford plea, the defendant pleads guilty to the charges, but does not admit guilt. The defendant acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him or her, but does not admit to committing the offense.

Guilty Pleas

In a regular guilty plea, the defendant must admit the factual basis to the crime. The defendant’s lawyer generally draws up a brief statement in which the defendant acknowledges that he or she committed the acts that constitute the crime. Then, the defendant is put under oath, and the judge reads the statement and asks the defendant whether it is true and whether it is voluntarily made, after the defendant understands all of his or her rights, including the right to be tried by a jury and the right to be presumed innocent.

Alford Plea Procedure

In an Alford plea, the defendant admits that the prosecution can prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but does not concede guilt. The prosecution provides documentary evidence, such as police reports, forensic reports, and witness statements, and attaches it to the guilty plea. The defendant then states that he or she has reviewed these documents and admits their contents to be true, and allows the court to consider this information in deciding guilt. The court then takes a recess, during which the judge considers the evidence. When the court resumes session, as long as there is sufficient evidence, the judge will accept the guilty plea.


Alford pleas come from a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case, North Carolina v. Alford, in which a defendant, Alford, was on trial for first-degree murder. Alford’s lawyer advised him to plead guilty to second-degree murder, despite the fact that Alford maintained his innocence, in exchange for the prosecution agreeing not to seek the death penalty. Alford did plead guilty, but declared his innocence in court.

Alford appealed, arguing that he was coerced into pleading guilty, but the Supreme Court allowed the guilty plea to stand, holding that a guilty plea was valid as long as the defendant was competently represented by counsel, the plea was intelligently made, and the record contained strong evidence of guilt.


Alford pleas and regular guilty pleas are treated the same way at sentencing. No lesser or harsher sentence will be given to a defendant who enters an Alford plea instead of a regular guilty plea. This also means that an Alford plea counts as a strike under Illinois’s three-strikes laws.

An Alford plea may have a detrimental effect on a defendant’s parole hearings, if the parole board feels that the inmate never took responsibility for his or her actions. It may also be taken as evidence that the defendant is not receptive to treatment, in cases where treatment, for example, for drug or alcohol abuse, is an option at sentencing. Further, if a treatment option requires a defendant to admit guilt as part of completing the treatment plan, the defendant will not be exempted from this requirement.

If you have been charged with a crime, an attorney can help you review your options and make the best decision on what plea to enter. Please contact the skilled Naperville criminal defense attorneys at Law Office of Glenn M. Sowa, LLC to schedule a free consultation.