Pleading guilty in Washington State – there’s more than one way

Pleading guilty in Washington State – there’s more than one way

If you have been charged with a crime in Washington State, one of the options for resolving the case is to plead guilty. But not all guilty pleas are the same. In fact, the state of Washington recognizes at least five possible ways to plead guilty in a criminal case.

Alford Plea

If you do not believe you are guilty, but are worried that a jury will find you guilty anyway, then an Alford Plea may be right for you. In this form of guilty plea, you state in advance that you do not believe you are actually guilty, but you will plead guilty anyway because you want to take advantage of the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation. You must also state that you believe there is a substantial possibility that a judge or jury will find you guilty if the case goes to trial. There is no difference in your criminal record between a straight charge and an Alford charge; both just show “G” for guilty. With this type of guilty plea, however, you should never admit that you did something when you didn’t.

Direct request

A Straight Plea is exactly what it sounds like. You admit that you engaged in criminal conduct and plead guilty to the crime as charged.

Deferred sentencing

Sometimes a crime that is not a felony can have a deferred sentence. This means that you have been found guilty of the crime and sentenced accordingly. However, at the end of the sentence (usually one to two years), the conviction is expunged from your criminal record and replaced with a dismissal.

Negotiated Order of Continuation/Referral to Court Agreement

This is a less common scenario. In this case, you agree in writing to carry out (or not carry out) certain activities, such as consuming alcohol or engaging in future offences, for an agreed period of time (eg a year or two). If you keep your agreement, then at the end of the scheduled continuance order, the prosecutor agrees to reduce the charge to an agreed upon lesser charge, for example a DUI is reduced to first degree reckless driving.

Informal agreements

Sometimes the prosecutor will make an agreement with the defendant that if the defendant takes some action, such as staying out of trouble for six months or doing community service, then the prosecutor will change the criminal charge to a less serious one. This informal agreement is very similar to an Order of Continuance (SOC), but unlike a SOC, this agreement is not in writing.


The number of opportunities to resolve a criminal case increases dramatically based on the skills and experience of both the prosecutor and the defense attorney. Unfortunately, not all lawyers are adept at negotiating settlements. Reviewing this list of possible ways to plead guilty will ensure that all possible ways have been pursued.

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