NORTH CAROLINA V. ALFORD, 400 U. S. 25 (1970)

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U.S. Supreme Court

North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970)

North Carolina v. Alford

No. 14

Argued November 17, 1969

Reargued October 14, 1970

Decided November 23, 1970

400 U.S. 25


Appellee was indicted for the capital crime of first-degree murder. At that time, North Carolina law provided for the penalty of life imprisonment when a plea of guilty was accepted to a first-degree murder charge; for the death penalty following a jury verdict of guilty, unless the jury recommended life imprisonment; and for a penalty of from two to 30 years' imprisonment for second-degree murder. Appellee's attorney, in the face of strong evidence of guilt, recommended a guilty plea, but left the decision to appellee. The prosecutor agreed to accept a plea of guilty to second-degree murder. The trial court heard damaging evidence from certain witnesses before accepting a plea. Appellee pleaded guilty, although disclaiming guilt, because of the threat of the death penalty, and was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. The Court of Appeals, on an appeal from a denial of a writ of habeas corpus, found that appellee's guilty plea was involuntary because it was motivated principally by fear of the death penalty.

Held: The trial judge did not commit constitutional error in accepting appellee's guilty plea. Pp. 400 U. S. 31-39.

(a) A guilty plea that represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternatives available to a defendant, especially one represented by competent counsel, is not compelled within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment because it was entered to avoid the possibility of the death penalty. Brady v. United States, 397 U. S. 742. P. 400 U. S. 31.

(b) Hudson v. United States, 272 U. S. 451, which held that a federal court may impose a prison sentence after accepting a plea of nolo contendere, implicitly recognized that there is no constitutional bar to imposing a prison sentence upon an accused who is unwilling to admit guilt but who is willing to waive trial and accept the sentence. Pp. 400 U. S. 35-36.

(c) An accused may voluntarily, knowingly, and understandingly consent to the imposition of a prison sentence even though he is unwilling to admit participation in the crime, or even if his

Page 400 U. S. 26

guilty plea contains a protestation of innocence, when, as here, he intelligently conclude that his interests require a guilty plea and the record strongly evidences guilt. Pp. 400 U. S. 37-38.

(d) The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights do not prohibit the States from accepting pleas to lesser included offenses. P. 400 U. S. 39.

405 F.2d 340, vacated and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and HARLAN, STEWART, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BLACK, J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 400 U. S. 39. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 400 U. S. 39.

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