Kennedy Plea Turning Up in Local Court Cases

By: Carrie Cline Email
By: Carrie Cline Email

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Guilty or not guilty -- those are often the only choices you hear when it comes to a plea in a court case.

There is another option, though, that offers the defendant the chance to accept a plea bargain without accepting guilt.

It's called a Kennedy plea, and it has turned up in several high-profile cases this year.

Roger Coleman was the defendant in a recent murder trial in Cabell County Circuit Court, and he entered the Kennedy plea, which was considered something of a victory for him. Coleman was charged in the murder of a Huntington man over an unpaid debt.

Instead of going to trial and possibly facing a first-degree charge and life in prison, Coleman took a plea bargain of second-degree murder and 30 years. But he also didn't want to admit guilt, so he entered a Kennedy plea.

In order for a judge to accept a Kennedy plea, the prosecution has to present their evidence, and the judge has to believe there is enough evidence that a jury would reasonably convict.

"We can't force a case," said Sean Hammers, an assistant prosecutor in Cabell County. "It's his right to trial by jury."

It's an option where a defendant can take his or her sentence, avoid a trial and possible harsher penalties and get on with their life.

The Kennedy plea came about in West Virginia in 1987. It adopted the U.S. Supreme Court case of North Carolina vs. Alford.

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