Law Review note on Alford pleas by Anne Gooch, Class of 2011, cited in 4th Circuit Court opinion

Apr 15, 2011

A note written by third-year student Anne Gooch, “Admitting Guilt While Professing Innocence: When Sentence Enhancements Based on Alford Pleas Are Unconstitutional” (63 Vanderbilt Law Review 1755, 2010), was cited by Judge Andre Davis of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part in United States v. Toyer (No. 08-5036, 2011 WL 674737, at *13 (4th Cir. Feb. 25, 2011)).

Gooch’s note addresses sentencing for defendants entering Alford pleas. She argues that any fact enhancing such defendants’ sentences should be specifically admitted by these defendants or proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

"In an Alford plea," Gooch explains in her note, "a defendant chooses to waive his Sixth Amendment right to trial and plead guilty, but at the same time protests his innocence. In other words, the defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that the government has evidence against him upon which a jury could find him guilty."

The Alford plea takes its name from North Carolina v. Alford, a murder case in which Henry Alford pleaded guilty in 1963 to second-degree murder in order to avoid going to trial for first-degree murder, for which he could have been sentenced to death. Alford maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings, and after he was sentenced to 30 years in prison, he appealed, claiming that his guilty plea was invalid. His appeal  was heard in 1970 by the Supreme Court, which upheld Alford's guilty plea despite his insistence that he was not guilty.

Gooch's note was cited as support for Judge Davis’s description of the circumstances under which an Alford plea would be treated like a traditional guilty plea. 

Gooch is Senior Notes Editor of the Vanderbilt Law Review.

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