Alford Pleas & Civil Liability: Nevada’s Law

Alford Pleas

An “Alford Plea” is a plea that a defendant enters as an admission of guilt towards the charged crime while also maintaining their innocence to that charge.  In effect, the plea carries the presumption that the defendant understands that the State, more likely than not, has sufficient evidence to prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Nevada, an Alford plea is treated similarly to that of a nolo contendere plea. A nolo contendere plea is understood to mean that the defendant accepts the conviction but does not admit guilt for the crime charged.  The Nevada Supreme Court in State v. Gomes, 930 P.2d 701, 705, 112 Nev. 1473 (1996) held that a plea of nolo contendere authorizes the court to treat the defendant as if they are guilty without expressly admitting guilt. Additionally, the Gomes court held that Nevada only has four (4) types of pleas – guilty, not guilty, guilty but mentally ill, or nolo contendere – and that there is no provision in Nevada law that recognizes an Alford plea.  Thus, the Gomes court held that whenever a defendant maintains his or her innocence but pleads before the court with an Alford plea, that plea is to be treated as one of nolo contendere.

When an offender is convicted of a crime resulting in injury to the victim, the conviction serves as conclusive evidence of all facts necessary to impose civil liability for the injury.  For example, in Mitchell v. Beckett, 2008 WL 11450867 (2008), the District Court of Nevada affirmed the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on counterclaims of unjust enrichment and conversion based on the conclusive evidence of the plaintiff’s prior conviction for animal cruelty and theft.

Under Nevada law, however, evidence of Alford and nolo contendere pleas is not admissible in any subsequent civil or criminal proceeding involving the person who made the plea.  For example, in Pavon v. Pavon, 526 P.3d 1109 (Nev. App. 2023), the Nevada Court of Appeals held that the district court erred when it considered evidence of the defendant’s Alford plea when determining whether there was any history of abuse or neglect in deciding the child custody dispute.

Importantly, the collateral consequences of both pleas are the same in criminal and civil cases.  A plea of nolo contendere does not expressly admit guilt but authorizes the court to treat the defendant as if he or she were guilty.  Because Nevada treats an Alford plea as a nolo contendere plea, and because evidence of a nolo contendere plea cannot be used as the basis for a civil judgment against a defendant, evidence of an Alford plea cannot be used as the basis for a civil judgement as well.

If you are in need of assistance with Alford Pleas, contact an attorney at Eglet Adams for help immediately on your case.