Okay, Resolved: "No Contest" does not mean Lueke did something sinister

Geoff's argument on this point being:

Again, the balance you are seeking is the "Yeah, we take responsibility but are really innocent" plea. You don't get to do that in this country. When you accept guilt, you accept it.


Attorney number two (following Mojician), or at least law student number two we presume, replies:

Actually, you can do that in this country.  It's called an Alford plea, based on North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970).  It differs from a plea of nolo contendre because the defendant affirmatively maintains his innocence while pleading guilty.  Judges, however, are under no obligation to accept them (at least not in Illinois).  Also, some states prohibit these types of pleas.  But it can be done in some states and in federal court under some circumstances and if accepted by the judge.


With the arrival of the legal specialists, we're getting out of Jeff's and Geoff's depths, I suspect :- ) But as to the material point:

This "Alford Plea" concept would amount to the court's admission that it is reasonable for the defendant to mistrust ... the court.  And/or the jury. 

Quite amazing that this formal statement of doubt about the court's integrity/competence is allowed in any state.  I wonder if the defendant automatically accepts contempt-of-court charges when filing this plea :- )


I think that Mojician has confirmed our general suspicion that --- > yes indeed, in the real world, it is very feasible that a defendant might plead "No Contest" despite the defendant's own belief that he did little or nothing wrong.

Geoff has a lot of strong logic working for him as we debate ethics and philosophy, but if I were in his shoes I'd abandon this particular point -- the argument that Lueke's plea itself demonstrates that Lueke did something sinister.  That particular sub-argument's a loser.

The Times made a fair amount of soup off of that oyster:  "Lueke didn't take the case to trial, so in practical terms, we pretty much know that he assaulted the woman without her consent."

This never sounded like a safe assumption to SSI.  Mojician's detailed refutation of it, and this interesting Alford Plea reinforcer, leaves me fairly well convinced.  It's quite possible that Lueke was in a "wrong place, wrong time" situation.

It's also possible that he did something evil.  But as a society, we withhold punishment for that until we prove that he did.


There is no moral separation between what we do in the courts, and what we do in the newspapers.  The courts are there because we, as a community, don't want bad guys spitting in the water hole. 

The courts are there to deal with water-hole problems officially.  But!  What we do unofficially should also reflect the same sense of justice that we codify in the courts.  Treat men as evil AFTER we have PROVEN that they are evil.


I can very easily visualize pleading out an accusation not because I did something evil, but because I was scared spitless of the legal system.  Mojician and Co. advise me that my fears are well-founded.  Maybe Lueke did that.


A very interesting add, Anon.  Thank you.




david h's picture

aka Anonymous.  I didn't bother to enter a name last time, but since I am now on my third post, I might as well avoid confusion with future Anonymouses.
I'm interested in how you viewed the information regarding Alford pleas.  I think it cuts both ways - if Alford pleas are possible, and Lueke did not affirmatively maintain his innocence, it seems that this would cut against him.  These pleas are rare, though, and the prosecutor may not have been willing to go along with the plea deal if Lueke wanted to state his innocence on the record.  A five second google search shows that California permitted these pleas at least as recently as 2006 (defendant: Jean Peyrelevade).  But as to your larger point, Alford is indeed a formal, legal recognition that some defendants plead guilty while disputing their guilt.
I'm curious, though, about how many people rushing to give Lueke every possible benefit of the doubt would do so in other guilty plea (or nolo contendre) situations.  I'm not calling anyone out specifically, and not assigning specific motives or biases, but would there be such support voiced if he was not a talented white athlete in the Mariners organization?  Or just not a talented athlete?  Or just not white? Or just not a Mariner?  Think about all the people sitting behind bars because of a guilty plea right now - are you (not you jemanji but you commenters straining to find some gap in the information to support Lueke) as willing to assume they may be actually innocent as you are to assume that Lueke may be?
Here are over 250 people wrongly convicted and later exonerated by DNA or other evidence.  According to the data compiled by the Innocence Project, "In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty."  People confess and plead guilty when they are innocent.  This is a known fact.  Do you give the benefit of the doubt to other convicted felons, or just Lueke?
It seems likely from the facts reported at the time and dug up by recent coverage that Lueke did something horribly wrong that night, regardless of whether it was the equivalent of stalking a woman in an alley.  Unlike many or most who confess to crimes they did not commit, Lueke had access to a lawyer, does not suffer from mental illness or impairment, and was even out of jail at the time of his plea.  The rush to avoid judging him or believing he is responsible for a terrible act surprises me, because most convicted felons are assumed evil, and indeed most people simply charged with an offense are assumed guilty long before a conviction (and sometimes after an acquittal).

david h's picture

Allowing Alford pleas is in some ways a mistrust of the court/jury system, but isn't necessarily so.  We don't require absolute, undeniable proof of guilt to convict, just proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  A person could very well end up in a situation in which the State has all sorts of evidence against him, but based on some absurd coincidence - one that would not be considered a reasonable explanation - he is actually innocent.  Seeing the stacked evidence, the person, as described by Mojician, may give up hope of acquittal and plead guilty to avoid a more serious sentence.  These situations are, we hope, rare, but certainly possible and are another way to explain Alford pleas other than distrust in the system.
Not that there aren't endless reasons to distrust the system...

Geoff Baker's picture

That's intetresting info, but we're not talking about an Alford plea here. Just a straight no contest plea in which Lueke signed paperwork advising him that, for the purposes of the criminal court he was in, his no contest plea was the same as a guilty plea. And he's been treated as such by the court. Bringing in Alford pleas confuses the issue. It's not at play here.
But it's an intertesting aside, I'll give you that.


... would be the underlying theme in a majority opinion in the decision allowing such a thing as an Alford plea.  Not admission of weakness on their own part.
Just the same, I hardly think that it's a concept that flatters the court :- ) ... Dare you to try it on a judge who isn't familiar with the concept sometime...


... the premise that an innocent person could --- > justifiably doubt whether justice will occur.
Obviously an innocent person could doubt that -- I certainly could -- and the Alford plea is one example of an official recognition by the court itself, that an innocent defendant could legitimately doubt his fate in court.
C'mon.  Are you going to insist that no innocent defendant could ever doubt his fate in court?

KingCorran's picture

I think that Geoff's point is that there WASN'T an Alford plea in this case, even though it was theoretically possible.  And if Lueke didn't plea this way when he could have, doubt is cast on any possible interpretation leading to his innocence.  I don't think Geoff would think of insisting that an innocent defendent would always be confident about his fate in court.
Contrasted with that, though, is the reality that Geoff is overlooking the key thought behind your post, Doc.  Establishing the existence of an Alford plea concept is what gives us precedent to doubt Lueke's guilt as presented - and doubt only as a possibility, as we obviously have no grounds to DENY his guilt.
It's entirely possible that Alford pleas are no longer accepted in California courts, or that for some reason we can't imagine Lueke's counsel strongly advised him not to go that route.  Regardless of whether he made that specific plea or not, the possibility still exists that Lueke was railroaded - or knew he was going to be.  And while I am very skeptical that would actually be the case... it seems difficult to pretend that a plea of no contest automatically means that Leuke *is* guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

david h's picture

A couple points.  First, that Lueke did not enter an Alford plea does not say much about Lueke's factual culpability (avoiding the term "guilt" because he was found guilty as a matter of law).  It's not simply up to the defendant - the court can reject the notion, and the prosecutor could have not been willing to agree to that type of plea.
Second, I agree with Geoff that Lueke's plea can and should be talked about in the same manner as a guilty plea.  There really is little difference between pleas of guilty, nolo contendere, and Alford pleas.  Plenty of people plead guilty and still maintain their innocence and in fact challenge their convictions after the plea - they just don't state their innocence in court on the day of the plea, because it would likely blow up the plea process and send them to trial.  Just about every defendant would like to claim innocence even if pleading guilty, so it really says nothing about Lueke's belief of his own culpability.  What it does reveal, however, is that Lueke was able to get the prosecutor to agree with this type of plea for some reason.  That is where there is room to speculate - perhaps the victim was too scarred to testify, perhaps the evidence was not strong, or perhaps myriad other reasons we can't imagine led to the agreement on this type of plea.  We just don't know.  What we know is that, in the eyes of the law, Lueke is guilty of felony unlawful imprisonment with violence, and admitted that the State of California had sufficient evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.


Much of Geoff's argument stands or falls with the clear premise that [No Contest] = [Practical Culpability].  This has been a foundation plank in his ethical defense.
The burden of proof is on Geoff, the way this has fallen out, to prove that Lueke's entered plea --- > necessarily implies No Consent on the part of the victim.  Or some similarly-heinous practical situation.
Geoff has not argued that Lueke may or may not be "culpable."  Geoff has argued that it is safe to conclude that Lueke is very culpable, and he has argued that this can be inferred from the plea alone.

Anonymous's picture

It is possible that the prosector and/or the judge would not accept an Alford plea in this case. But that is the least significant of my thoughts right now.
"I think that Mojician has confirmed our general suspicion that --- > yes indeed, in the real world, it is very feasible that a defendant might plead "No Contest" despite the defendant's own belief that he did little or nothing wrong."
Mojican is the expert here (or faking it really, really well), and what he said in his long and informative post agrees with everything I know about the legal system. It is a crapshoot, nowhere near as fair, straightforawrd or elegant as we like to think. Lueke took what looked like the best route, so while his plea legally says "I admit it", on a practical basis, we do not know.

david h's picture

I would argue for a position between you and Baker.  I'd argue No Contest = Practical Culpability.  I am suspect of criminal convictions more than most, but generally speaking, a finding of and conviction for guilt can and is accepted in our country as a sign of practical culpability.
However, even according to this position, Lueke is "practically culpable" only for that for which he has been convicted: felony false imprisonment with violence.  Taking that culpability to assume he is culpable of something more heinous is not a very sound position.
However, looking at the facts that have been reported, I feel safe assuming Lueke most likely did something terribly wrong.


Imagine, if you will, the articles Geoff will write if/when the M's actually call Lueke up.
Does anyone think LincStrong will tolerate picketing outside Safeco? 'Cause I don't. Dude will never set foot in Safeco as a Mariner.


To restate my point from elsewhere.
Yes, Lueke plead quilty ... to a crime our criminal justice system thought was so heinous that he was allowed to immediately be freed to go about his business.  The people who DID have the information, who DID talk to all parties, who DID their due dillegence, (we hope) ... said --- "Hold out your hand - *WHACK!* --- dismissed."
Okay - with probation this wasn't a Jaywalking conviction -- but it seems to me that a basic premise of our justice system is that punishments fit the crimes.  And if anything, the current judicial mood in regard to sex crimes in general is to err on the side of harshness, not leniency. 
My position is this -- to be overly concerned with this kid is only possible if one believes the justice system that convicted him is either incompetent or far too lenient. 

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