A case related to sexual assault can grab headlines quickly in today's world. Both parties of the defense and the prosecution can be put under the microscope of public opinion no matter the actual result of the trial.
Incidents are especially high-profile today if they involve athletes, racial ties or people of different abilities. All three of those factors came together for a group of high school football players in Idaho in October 2015. The trial then resulted in a unique plea agreement for one defendant who was charged as an adult. The same plea used by the football player can be used in courtrooms nationwide.
Most people are aware that defendants can plead "guilty" or "innocent" when an arraigned on charges. However, another plea option that stands somewhere between guilt and innocence is available to defendants.
The Alford plea
One plea option is the "Alford plea." This admission was used in the Idaho high school football case and is also allowed in Missouri and Illinois. By submitting an Alford plea, the defendant maintains his or her innocence while admitting that the prosecution likely has enough evidence to convict them of a crime.
The Alford plea is also called a "best-interests plea" because it allows the full process of a criminal trial while affording a defendant the opportunity to maintain his or her innocence.
The Idaho football player was able to avoid an admission of guilt on a sex crime charge and instead pleaded guilty to a lesser felony charge of injury to a child. A state official said that a crime did occur, but it may have been hard for the prosecution to prove that the act was a sex crime.
Best interest is not always a bargain
Some legal scholars have warned against using the Alford plea. Although it is perceived as a "best-interest plea" it should not be used as a bargaining tool, according to a 2003 article in Missouri Law Review.
A defendant's maintenance of innocence can complicate the sentencing phase of a trial or restrict his or her access to probation or parole if some admission of guilt is required later in the legal process.
When considering how a defendant should plea during an arraignment and trial, it is important to remember that each case is different. A trusted criminal defense attorney who specializes in high-profile and complicated cases can best explain your legal options for due process following charges of sexual assault or other serious crimes.