Ask Us: Pierce pleaded guilty pursuant to Alford. What does that mean?

Published 12:05 am Monday, April 11, 2022

Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to askus@salisburypost.com.

SALISBURY — A reader asked for clarification on Commissioner Craig Pierce’s guilty plea for driving while intoxicated.

Pierce pleaded guilty to the charge on Oct. 15, months after he was pulled over and arrested by a Salisbury Police officer on June 27. He received a suspended 60-day sentence to be served as 24 months of unsupervised probation. He had to complete a substance abuse assessment and surrender his license until reinstated by the Department of Motor Vehicles. He was also given 24 hours of community service that were already completed when he was sentenced by Judge Harry Thomas Church.

He received a level five offense, which is the least serious of the five levels of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. Pierce also was charged with failure to maintain lane control, but that charge was dismissed.

Court records show Pierce pleaded guilty pursuant to Alford.

According to Cornell Law School, an Alford plea “registers a formal claim neither of guilt nor innocence toward charges brought against a defendant in criminal court.” Generally, an Alford plea is a subset of a guilty plea in which a defendant maintains their innocence but admits that the state has sufficient evidence to convict them and agrees to be treated as guilty, according to a blog post from the UNC School of Government.

So, essentially, an Alford plea allows a defendant to plead guilty without actually having to say they are guilty.

It may also allow the defendant to assert actual innocence more easily in post-conviction proceedings. Not admitting factual guilt would prevent the opposing side from using the plea as proof in any civil proceedings.

An Alford plea is not a plea of no contest.

The plea takes its name from North Carolina v. Alford, a 1970 court case in which Henry Alford was charged for first-degree murder but pleaded guilty in exchange for a second-degree murder conviction. When Alford took the stand, he testified he was innocent and pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, according to Oyez.org. Not all states allow for use of the Alford plea. The plea is not allowed in the state courts of Michigan, Indiana or New Jersey.

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About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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