EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, May 9, 2016

Court of Appeals of Kentucky Finds Alford Plea Admissible in Insurance Dispute

A few weeks ago, I did a post about the Supreme Court of Minnesota finding that an Alford Plea was inadmissible in a subsequent civil trial. In its recent opinion in Eberle v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., 2016 WL 2609311 (Ky.App. 2016), the Court of Appeals of Kentucky reached the opposite conclusion.

In Eberle, Michael Bishop

was indicted on charges of assault in the first degree, wanton endangerment, and tampering with physical evidence. On July 26, 2012, Bishop pleaded guilty to class D felonies pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (U.S.1970). 

Bishop's plea agreement stated that

Pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970), I wish to plead “GUILTY” in reliance on the attached “Commonwealth's Offer on a Plea of Guilty.” In so pleading, I do not admit guilt, but I believe the evidence against me strongly indicates guilt and my interests are best served by a guilty plea.

The plea agreement also contained a statement of facts, which set forth that

On or about June 13, 2011, in Jefferson County, the Defendant, while acting under extreme emotional disturbance, wantonly discharged a shotgun striking Jacob Eberle causing serious physical injury. Jack Riley was also present and placed at risk by the firing. The shell casing discharged from the shotgun was never found. Jacob Eberle and Jack Riley would testify that they never rang the defendant's doorbell nor set foot on his front porch.

Bishop had a homeowner's insurance policy through Nationwide and subsequently sought coverage under it for the June 2011 incident, prompting litigation. As a result, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky had to determine whether Bishop's Alford Plea was admissible. The court easily found that it was, concluding that

Although Bishop's plea is labeled as an Alford plea, the fact remains that it resulted in his conviction. "The entry of a guilty plea under the Alford doctrine carries the same consequences as a standard plea of guilty. By entering such a plea, a defendant may be able to avoid formally admitting guilt at the time of sentencing, but he nonetheless consents to being treated as if he were guilty with no assurances to the contrary."..."An Alford plea is a 'plea of guilty,' regardless of any denial of underlying facts, and clearly constitutes a criminal conviction."...

In pleading guilty, Bishop acknowledged that the evidence against him was sufficient to support the charges to which he pled guilty. The trial court then reviewed that evidence and also agreed that it was sufficient to establish Bishop's guilt. The circuit court's determination that Bishop's plea had a factual basis is a judicial determination made with respect to the essential elements of the crime that has preclusive effect in later civil litigation. Bishop acknowledged in the criminal case that the Commonwealth's evidence was strong enough to convict him of the crimes he was charged with committing. It would be inconsistent with that acknowledgment to allow him to take the opposite approach in this civil litigation....It, therefore, follows that the conviction establishes Bishop's factual guilt irrespective of the fact that the conviction was obtained through entry of an Alford plea.



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