Although most cases are resolved through guilty pleas, prosecutors and judges may sometimes permit defendants to enter a plea of no contest or nolo contendere.
Both pleas have similar outcomes; the defendant is convicted and penalized in both scenarios.
As an experienced lawyer, I can understand your confusion if you see no difference between these two.
Here’s what you need to know about what makes this particular type of plea so important.
- Declaring a plea of no contest or nolo contendere is equivalent to stating, "I do not wish to challenge," thus allowing the criminal charge against you to stand.
- Despite the seemingly dishonorable connotations of a no-contest plea, you may have compelling reasons to opt for this rather than pleading guilty.
- Most criminal charges are concluded via plea bargains.
What Is a Plea of No Contest or Nolo Contendere Plea?
A plea of no contest or a nolo contendere plea is when the individual does not admit guilt but agrees to accept a conviction for the crime nonetheless .
When a defendant opts for the plea of no contest, in most jurisdictions, the judge must follow these steps:
- Ensure that you comprehend the full details of your plea and its consequences before making a decision.
- Please be advised a no-contest plea is equivalent to a guilty plea in the eyes of the court.
- Make sure you do so freely and not under any persuasion or misunderstanding.
A judge should also tell you that if you plead no contest, it will constitute waiving the rights above. Regarding no-contest pleas and guilty pleas, the primary difference lies in their implications within civil court proceedings.
In most places, a no-contest plea is equal to a guilty plea in terms of felony criminal charges and can be used as an admission of guilt for other legal matters, such as civil cases.
Reasons Why to Enter a No Contest Plea
If a defendant believes the prosecution has an unshakeable case and that conviction is imminent, they may choose to enter a no-contest plea.
This allows them to avoid admitting guilt in criminal proceedings, which could adversely affect any civil cases where liability or fault must be established.
The burden of proof in a criminal case is much harder to meet than the requirement for evidence-based preponderance standards needed in civil cases.
If this threshold has been reached and surpassed in a criminal trial, then it is certain that the same can be applied to any related civil suit.
What Happens When You Plead No Contest?
When you plead no contest, the court will find you guilty of the crime and proceed to a sentence. The penalty for pleading no contest is typically the same as if you had pleaded guilty.
This includes a conviction on your criminal record that could affect future job prospects, housing applications, and other areas of life.
When you plead no contest, a judge will assess your case and render a decision accordingly. However, you need to:
- Embrace the plea of no contest and choose not to dispute it.
- Acknowledge the legal consequences and solidify your comprehension when you plead guilty.
- This plea will be held accountable to the same standards as a guilty plea.
- Understand that before you waive your rights as if you are pleading guilty, be sure that this is the best decision for you.
Deciding to plead guilty or no contest means you are forfeiting your right to a jury trial, legal counsel, and the ability to remain silent. Additionally, it means that you cannot question those who have brought accusations against you.
When a defendant enters a no-contest plea in a misdemeanor case, the prosecutor must explain the circumstances of the offense to the judge or magistrate.
-Robert A. Beattey, Former Prosecutor & Civil Litigator
Guilty Pleas vs. No Contest Pleas
By entering a not guilty or no contest plea, you are effectively admitting to criminal activity without going through the trial process. However, this does not preclude potential civil charges from being brought against you - even if you were found "not guilty" in your original case.
If you make a plea bargain with the prosecutor, it is necessary to switch your initial not-guilty plea when seeking approval from the judge.
If you face misdemeanor charges, a plea of no contest will have different consequences than a guilty plea.
However, if the charge is felony-level, most courts handle guilty and no contest pleas similarly; if you plead guilty or "no contest" to a felony, it could be used as an admission of guilt for any related civil proceedings.
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Do I Always Have the Option of Pleading No-Contest?
No, you do not always have the option of pleading no contest. Prosecutors may require that you plead guilty as part of a plea bargain, and it is not always compulsory for judges to accept no-contest pleas.
If I Plead No Contest and Give the Judge a Perfect Excuse, Might the Judge Let Me Off?
No, if you plead no contest and give the judge a perfect excuse, they will not let you off. The judge will only likely find you not guilty on your no-contest plea if there is an error in the "charging" document or a discrepancy between the prosecutor's recitation of facts and those written in the said document.
What Is a Guilty Plea in a Criminal Proceeding?
A guilty plea in a criminal proceeding is an admission of guilt to all or some of the charges in a given criminal case.
Do You Need to Speak With a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
If you find yourself facing a criminal offense, it is essential to seek legal aid. Navigating the often-complicated laws and regulations connected with a civil lawsuit or criminal case can be overwhelming without professional help.
Speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney at Schmidt & Clark, LLP in a free consultation. Our criminal defense lawyers can assist you in comprehending the possible effects of any plea agreement and whether or not this benefits your interests.