I’m often asked what a plea of No Contest actually means. Regardless of the seriousness of a crime, it is important for criminal defendants to know their options when it comes to their choice of plea.
Guilty, Not Guilty, and Not-Guilty-by-Reason-of-Insanity are fairly obvious and require little explanation. But a plea of No Contest, otherwise known as a Nolo Contendre plea, requires some clarification. By pleading No Contest, a criminal defendant accepts as true, and does not contest, the facts contained in the criminal Complaint. However, and most importantly, by entering a plea of No Contest, the defendant is not admitting factual guilt.
No Contest pleas are often used when an attorney has negotiated a plea bargain. In exchange for a plea bargain, a defendant agrees not to fight a charge and to accept the sentence recommended by the prosecutor. In certain instances, a prosecutor may require the defendant enter a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced charge.
While pleading No Contest is not the same as a Guilty plea, once a defendant admits the facts are true, he/she will almost always be found Guilty by the Judge, unless a withhold of adjudication has been negotiated.
So, what is the functional difference between a plea of Guilty and a plea of No Contest? The benefit of a No Contest plea for a defendant is that not contesting the facts of the criminal case, but not admitting to them, cannot be used against him/her as an admission in any later civil or criminal proceedings.
For example, suppose a driver is intoxicated and rear ends another motor vehicle, causing damage to the car and injury to the other driver. The intoxicated driver would likely be cited for a traffic violation, such as following too closely, and with DUI, a criminal offense. If the intoxicated driver pleads guilty to the DUI, he/she admits both the operative facts (intoxication and following too closely), as well as legal guilt. If the driver were later sued in a civil lawsuit, the admission of Guilt in the criminal case can be used to establish liability in the civil case.
In the same scenario, if the driver enters a plea of No Contest, he/she would also likely be found Guilty. However, the No Contest plea cannot be used as an admission of intoxication or liability in the lawsuit for money damages. It would then require the suing party to prove the liability issue, not simply rely on a guilty plea.
Although every case is unique, a defendant’s plea at the first court appearance will almost always be Not Guilty. This gives the defense attorney time to conduct discovery, where they can learn more about the evidence and the case against the client. Although we here at O’Mara Law Group are experienced trial attorneys, sometimes cases require plea bargaining negotiations, where a defendant may plead Guilty or No Contest (sometimes to a reduced charge) based on the specific facts and circumstances of an individual case.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at O’Mara Law Group are here to help. Sometimes going to trial is the right choice, but sometimes it is not. Entering a plea of Guilty or No Contest should not be taken lightly. You should fully understand the consequences of your plea before putting it on the record in front of the judge.
Call us today at (407) 898-5151 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation.