Alford Pleas and Appeals: Maintaining Innocence During a Guilty Plea Does NOT Preserve Appellate Rights
By: Megan Patituce
The ability to challenge issues on appeal is not unfettered. Certain choices made at the trial level will impact what challenges may be raised on appeal. This applies equally to pleas and trials. For example, a bench trial will, almost without exception, significantly diminish appellate challenges available compared to those available after a jury trial. Likewise, a guilty plea will significantly limit the available appellate remedies in comparison to a no contest plea.
The Sixth District recently had cause to reaffirm that guilty pleas, no matter how entered, strip available appellate remedies. State v. Blackmon, 6th Dist. Lucas No. L-19-1036, 2020-Ohio-2857 (May 8, 2020). Mr. Blackmon faced two indictments, brought two months apart, stemming from one incident. On the day of trial, the state offered to dismiss the second indictment in exchange for a guilty plea to an amended charge in the first indictment. Mr. Blackmon entered an Alford plea and was sentenced consistent with the recommendation of the state.
Here, Mr. Blackmon sought to challenge the trial court’s failure to rule on a motion filed by the state to join the two indictments or, in the alternative, dismiss the state’s motion for joinder. Mr. Blackmon did not challenge the voluntariness of his plea, which the Sixth District found to be knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. That plea, despite being an Alford plea through which Mr. Blackmon maintained his innocence, operated as a waiver to any claims he may have had regarding the underlying joinder issue.
The Sixth District reiterated long-standing precedent that Alford pleas are still guilty pleas and, as such, result in a waiver of trial errors. The Sixth District determined that, even if his Alford plea had not waived his appellate rights as to the joinder issues, there was no plain error below. The Blackmon decision serves as a reminder that all decisions, be they at trial or plea, impact future appellate rights.