I always wonder why a person would take this sort of plea. The consequences are the same. Is the defendant just taking the punishment but refusing to accept the moral responsibility? Is the defendant taking someone else's punishment? Is the defendant pleading to take a lesser punishment than he thinks he will get at trial, even though he is innocent? It's a very strange idea.
A defendent is either guilty or not guilty, and if the defendent is guilty (or found guilty) he or she should have to be accountable for the crime. Allowing someone to admit only partial guilt (or use an Alford plea) regardless of what crime does not require the criminal to be accountable. Even those who do the wrong thing for the right reason need to be held accountable.
I don't think that you should be allowed to admit only partial guilt. I think that guilty people should be compelled to tell what happened fully and if it implicates them in another proceeding that would be there right to defend themselves in those other proceedings, with all the facts on the table.
I share the confusion with brettd concerning the precise purpose of such pleas. Are they designed to allow different degrees of guilt? Can a defendant say that they are 'kind of' guilty for a crime instead of opting for saying they are fully responsible? And if it does not impact the sentencing in anyway, what purpose do they hold except to obscure and confuse the legal system even more?
That being said, then, what is the purpose of an Alford plea? If courts treat it as a guilty plea and it doesn't affect sentencing, it seems the only purpose, then, is to convince more people to plead guilty. To give them the intrinsic incentive, that is, to agree to a plea deal because they don't have to actually say they committed the crime.
Another reason I tend not to support these kind of pleas is based on victims' rights. A plea bargain saves the victims or their families, and witnesses too, from having to testify, but it also gives the victims some sense of closure, in that the criminal admits guilt. Confesses. Answers questions. Victims often get to make statements to the accused before they are sentenced. This is an important part of the process, part of our concept of justice, imperfect though it is, and an Alford plea sidesteps it altogether.
I assume you are talking about things like Alford pleas. If so, I think that they are acceptable, largely because they do not tend to differ in effect from a fuller guilty plea.
Courts have generally held that an Alford plea is no less of an admission of guilt than a guilty plea. So you don't get any lower of a sentence (necessarily) when you use an Alford plea. Given that this is the case, I don't think allowing Alford pleas is a problem.
The primary reason for a no-contest or nolo contendere (or an Alford plea) is to avoid having the sworn admissions be used in another venue. This could be another criminal matter or more commonly in a civil setting or even an administrative setting. Guilty pleas require the defendant to admit under oath the essential facts of the case. Such admissions through the court transcript can then be used in other proceedings. Perhaps concurrent state and federal criminal charges, civil liability flowing from the same facts, divorce proceedings, pension issues, etc.
Should a defendant be allowed to plead guilty without fully admitting guilt?
sure, but it is just semantics. i once pled "no contest" to a traffic ticket because i did not want to have a record of guilt. the fine was the same.