Muldoon, Getz & Reston

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Issues In NY Criminal Law--Vol. 4, #11©

Issue: Effect of Alford Plea of Guilty

When a defendant pleads guilty, a factual colloquy is usually required. The defendant states on the record facts that comprise the elements of the crime. Infrequently, however, the defendant may plead guilty yet not admit all the facts that comprise the crime. North Carolina v Alford, 40 US 25, 91 S Ct 160, 27 L Ed2d 162 (1970).

Such a plea is valid in New York State. People v Friedman, 39 NY2d 463, 384 NYS2d 408 (1976); People v Krawitz, 151 AD2d 850, 542 NYS2d 824 (3d Dept 1989); Handling a Criminal Case in New York (2001-2002 ed.), § 17:36. In plea bargaining, the prosecutor has the right to make no plea offer. People v Cohen, 186 AD2d 843, 588 NYS2d 211 (3d Dept 1992). Thus, the prosecutor can refuse to accept an Alford as a plea to a lesser charge. However, where the defendant seeks to plead to the whole indictment via an Alford plea, the prosecutor has no right to stop this. A defendant has the right to plead to the entire accusatory instrument. CPL 220.10(2); Carney v Feldstein, 193 AD2d 1016, 597 NYS2d 982 (3d Dept 1993). Acceptance of an Alford plea is in the court's discretion. People v Moret, 290 AD2d 250, 735 NYS2d 535 (1st Dept 2002). Whether a conviction resulting from an Alford plea is "valid" for later use is important in two areas: enhanced sentencing and collateral consequences.

A prosecutor will want an Alford-based conviction to be valid for purposes of future enhanced sentencing. Is a defendant who pleads guilty to a felony on one occasion, by means of an Alford plea, eligible for predicate or persistent felony treatment when convicted anew? Yes. The Alford plea is valid for enhanced sentencing purposes. People v Geier, 144 AD2d 1015, 534 NYS2d 626 (4th Dept 1988); Handling, §§ 17:43, 21:98. A prosecutor may properly cross-examine a defendant about a conviction based on an Alford plea. Handling, § 11:29. The second area involves the "collateral consequences" of a conviction. A guilty plea, or a conviction after trial, can be used in later civil litigation against a defendant to collaterally estop the criminal defendant from relitigating legally established facts. S.T. Grand Inc. v City of NY, 32 NY2d 300, 344 NYS2d 938 (1973).

Typically, this occurs in tort cases, such as civil assault. See Bodensteiner v Vannais, 167 AD2d 954, 561 NYS2d 1017 (4th Dept 1990); "Collateral Effects of a Criminal Conviction," NYS Bar Journal, July/August 1998, p. 26. Does an Alford conviction have the same effect as a guilty plea after a full colloquy? The answer again is yes. Merchants Mutual Ins. Co. v Arzillo, 98 AD2d 495, 472 NYS2d 97 (2d Dept 1984). However, where the elements of a crime do not "match" with the tort, collateral estoppel may be inapplicable. Almeyda v Zambito, 171 AD2d 633, 567 NYS2d 272 (2d Dept 1991). Thus, an Alford guilty plea to a crime provides no insulation to the defendant, either directly (punishment), on later criminal cases (enhanced sentencing), or with collateral civil consequences.

Prisoner: "As God is my judge, I am innocent".
Lord Birkett: "He isn't. I am, and you're not."


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