Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 8.59 iii. Plea Without Admission of Guilt

Skip to § 8.

For more text, click "Next Page>"

The law allows the defendant to enter a plea of guilty without making a factual admission of guilt, even, indeed, while maintaining his or her innocence.[141] This plea is often called an “Alford plea.”[142]  This plea of guilty constitutes a conviction for immigration purposes just as much as any other guilty plea.[143]


This procedure, however, allows the defendant to make a tactical decision that accepting a plea bargain, as opposed to taking the case to trial, will be in his or her interests even though s/he believes s/he is innocent of the charges.  The client may make this tactical decision to avoid worse consequences (criminal or immigration) if the case is fought and lost.  The client can simply enter a plea of guilty pursuant to these judicial decisions[144] without admitting actual guilt.  If this is permitted by the court, then the defendant has not admitted any facts as part of the record of conviction that might bring the conviction within a ground of removal.


[141] G. Herman, Plea Bargaining § 10.05 (2d ed. 2004); D. Rossman, Criminal Law Advocacy: Guilty Pleas, Chapter 9 (1983).

[142] United States v. Tunning, 69 F.3d 107 (6th Cir. 1995) (‘‘Alford’’ plea refers to defendant who pleads guilty but maintains that he is innocent).

[143] Abimbola v. Ashcroft, 378 F.3d 173 (2d Cir. Aug. 5, 2004) (Alford plea is a plea of guilty and a conviction under INA § 101(a)(48)(A), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(48)(A)).

[144] People v. West, 3 Cal.3d 595, 91 Cal.Rptr. 385 (1970); North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970).



Sixth Circuit

United States v. McMurray, 653 F.3d 367 (6th Cir. Aug 4, 2011) (Convictions based on Alford-type pleas can be predicate convictions under the ACCA if the qualifying crime is categorically a violent felony or the Shepard documents demonstrate with certainty that the defendant pleaded guilty to a narrowed charge that would qualify as a violent felony Additionally, any facts reflected in the Shepard documents to which the defendant did admit in the course of his Alford-type plea can be considered.)