The name, Alford plea, is taken from the case North Carolina v. Alford.
An Alford plea, also known as a "best-interests plea," registers a formal admission of guilt towards charges in criminal court while the defendant simultaneously expresses their innocence toward those same charges. Like the similar nolo contendere plea, an Alford plea skips the full process of a criminal trial because the defendant agrees to accept all the ramifications of a guilty verdict (i.e. punishment).
The main difference between a nolo contendere plea and an Alford plea is that, in an Alford plea, the defendant formally pleads guilty while, in a nolo contendere plea, the defendant refuses to assert either guilt or innocence. This distinction is relevant because unlike a nolo contendere plea, a formal admission of guilt under an Alford plea can be used against the defendant in future suits.
As with all plea bargains, an Alford plea is not a right and it is ultimately up to the prosecutor and judge to decide if they will offer it. A few states like New Jersey and Indiana expressly forbid Alfred pleas.
[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]