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Alford Plea: Guilty Without Admitting Guilt

Posted February 20, 2007

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— Former House Speaker Jim Black on Tuesday became the latest high-profile defendant to take advantage of a plea that allows them to avoid admitting they're guilty of a crime.

The Alford plea stems from a 1970 Supreme Court case: North Carolina v. Alford. It allows a defendant to acknowledge that there is so much evidence against him or her that a judge or jury might be compelled to convict him or her. But they can plead to a charge without admitting any guilt.

The justice system treats an Alford plea like a guilty plea. It goes on a person's criminal record and can be used against them in future criminal cases.

Other recent Alford pleas include the following:

  • Scott Edwards, the treasurer of the North Carolina Optometric Society Political Action Committee, entered  an Alford plea to an obstruction of justice charge. The charge stemmed from funneling checks to Black and others with blank payee lines and not reporting the transactions. He avoided a perjury trial and jail time.
  • Janet Klatt, a former Concord teacher, entered an Alford plea to a charge of taking indecent liberties with a minor in connection with a student sex case. She received a 30-month suspended prison sentence.
  • Latasha Isler, 19, was charged with setting a fire at an East Carolina University dormitory in March 2006. She accepted an Alford plea and was sentenced to probation and ordered to perform community service and pay damages.
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