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SCOW will clarify the “strong proof of guilt” requirement for an Alford plea

State v. Kevin L. Nash, 2018AP731-CR, petition for review of a per curiam opinion granted 12/10/19, case activity (including briefs)

Issue presented:

When accepting a guilty plea under Alford v. North Carolina, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), a circuit court may find there is a factual basis for the plea only if there is “strong proof of guilt.” May a court find “strong proof of guilt” based only on the information contained in the criminal complaint, or must the court hear additional evidence before it can make that finding?

Wisconsin law is a clear that it takes more to establish a factual basis for an Alford plea than for an ordinary guilty plea. State v. Smith, 202 Wis. 2d 21,
27, 549 N.W.2d 232 (1996). However, no Wisconsin case or statute specifies the method a circuit court must use to determine whether this test has been met. In Alford, the court used sworn witness testimony.

At his plea hearing, Nash repeatedly told the circuit court that he did not believe the State had enough evidence to prove second degree child sexual assault and that he did not commit the offense. He agreed to enter an Alford plea, but the State’s factual basis for the plea rested on the allegations of the complaint. While not specifying the proper method of proof, past decisions have found the requisite “strong proof of guilt” based on detailed testimony from preliminary hearing, testimony from a prior trial that ended in a hung jury, witness testimony at a plea hearing, or at least a detailed police report.  State ex rel. Warren v. Schwarz, 219 Wis. 2d 615, 631-32, 579 N.W.2d 698 (1998); State v. Johnson, 105 Wis. 2d 657, 661-63, 314 N.W.2d 897 (Ct. App. 1981); State v. Spears, 147 Wis. 2d 429, 435, 433 N.W.2d 595 (Ct. App 1988); State v. Annina, 2006 WI App 202, ¶¶7, 14-17, 296 Wis. 2d 599, 723 N.W.2d 708. Nash asks SCOW to require circuit courts to use sworn witness testimony or at least detailed recitals of witness statements to establish the “strong proof of guilt” required for an Alford plea.

 

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