I was confused after reading Norm's post on plea bargaining, below. There he noted that in Connecticut, a person who pleads guilty under the Alford doctrine (named after Alford v. North Carolina, the Alford docrine recognizes that courts may accept the plea of a defendant who asserts his innocence) may later be required to later admit his "guilt." I had always thought of Alford as a pro-individual rights opinion. My understanding was that it recognized an innocent person's due process right to plead guilty. Boy, was I wrong.
At issue in Alford was this: Can an innocent person voluntarily plead guilty to a crime he didn't commit? The answer, in reality, is of course not. An person cannot voluntarily plead guilty to a crime he didn't commit anymore than a person can voluntarily hand over his wallet to a mugger. An innocent person who refuses to plead guilty and is later convicted can face penalties up to ten times greater than if he were convicted of trial.
Yet the Supreme Court held that an innocent person can voluntarily plead guilty to a crime he didn't commit. Fair enough, I suppose. If Alford stood for the proposition that a person has a due process liberty right to bargain away his trial rights, then Alford would seem like a reasonable enough opinion. But that's not what Alford says. Instead, the Alford Court concluded:
The States in their wisdom may [abolish the Alford doctrine] and may prohibit the practice of accepting pleas to lesser included offenses under any circumstances.
This is a thumb screw. It gives the state the power to decide whether or not it wants to convict innocent men. It holds that due process permits, but does not require, Alford pleas. In other words, Alford gives all of the power to the government. Of course, Justice White, the hero of civil liberties that he was, notes:
The prohibitions against involuntary or unintelligent pleas should not be relaxed, but neither should an exercise in arid logic render those constitutional guarantees counterproductive and put in jeopardy the very human values they were meant to preserve.
an evil person shows cries, we call those crocodile tears. When someone like
Justice White (joined, of course, by Warren Burger) uses the rhetoric
of human liberty to support a patently pro-government opinion, what
should we say of his words?