Prison inmates in Ohio and around the country are sometimes released from custody when evidence emerges that proves their innocence, but far more people convicted of crimes they did not commit earn their freedom by entering into post-conviction plea agreements. Some legal observers refer to post-conviction plea agreements as dark pleas because they protect the authorities by putting defendants in a position where they have to choose between freedom and fighting to prove their innocence. The most common type of dark plea is known as an Alford plea.
Named after the 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case North Carolina v. Alford, an Alford plea allows a defendant to assert their innocence while accepting that the prosecution has enough evidence to secure a conviction. Unlike a nolo contendere plea, an Alfred plea is a formal admission of guilt. When defendants plead nolo contendere, they do not assert their innocence or admit guilt. A defendant who makes an Alfred plea cannot later file a civil lawsuit to seek compensation for their conviction and imprisonment. Alford pleas are not permitted in Michigan, New Jersey or Indiana, but criminal defense attorneys in all other U.S. states can inform their clients about them.
Post-conviction Alford pleas
Incarcerated individuals are usually offered post-conviction pleas when questions have been raised about the evidence prosecutors relied upon to convict them. Offering an Alford plea prevents civil lawsuits and allows prosecutors to put a quiet end to proceedings that could be embarrassing for them. Prisoners may accept Alford pleas because they are reluctant to trust their fates to a criminal justice system that has already failed them.
Media stories about innocent people being released form prison after spending years or even decades behind bars can erode public trust in the criminal justice system, and this is especially true when the facts of the case suggest that prosecutors were negligent or behaved improperly. To avoid this kind of publicity, incarcerated individuals who have been granted judicial reviews may be offered post-conviction Alford pleas. Alford pleas put a discrete end to potentially embarrassing proceedings and prevent civil lawsuits.