When a person is charged with a crime, he/she will usually plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” A “guilty” plea is entered if a person believes he/she committed the crime. A “not guilty” plea is entered if a person feels he/she is innocent of the charges. In some cases, a defendant will plead “nolo contendere,” or “no contest.”
A no contest plea is essentially a guilty plea that says you are not going to fight the charges against you but are not admitting guilt. It has the same legal ramifications as a guilty plea. However, a plea of no contest can be more beneficial than a guilty plea in certain cases.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges and considering a no contest plea, it is important to have a Wallin & Klarich attorney who will fight to get you the best possible result in your case.
What Happens in a No Contest Plea?
When a defendant pleads no contest, he/she is telling the court, “I do not wish to contest.” The defendant is not admitting guilt. However, the no contest plea tells the court that the defendant does not want to go to trial for the charge and allows the court to determine a punishment for the charge. The punishment will result in a criminal conviction on the defendant’s record.
When a defendant enters a plea of no contest, it is not immediately accepted by the court. Under California Penal Code Section 1016(3), the defendant must be advised of the ramifications of a no contest plea by the court judge in a three-step process when entering a no contest plea:
- First, the court judge must accept the plea. A judge is not required to accept a no contest plea. The prosecutor does not have to consent to the no contest plea.
- If the judge accepts, he/she will then explain to the defendant that a no contest plea will be considered to be the same as a guilty plea, and the court will find the defendant guilty with a no contest plea.
- If the defendant agrees to the terms, the court judge will then confirm with the defendant that his/her no contest plea is being made freely and voluntarily and not under coercion or any other misleading terms.
Once the defendant agrees to all of the judge’s terms, a sentencing hearing will be held to determine the defendant’s punishment.
What Constitutes an Acceptable No Contest Plea?
Under California Penal Code Section 1192.5, the court must determine whether a factual basis for a no contest plea applies to the case. The facts are a stipulation that must be agreed upon by the court and the defendant’s attorney. A stipulation is an agreement that certain facts about the case are not in dispute. If there is no factual basis for a no contest plea, then the defendant cannot be found guilty of the crime.
Reasons for Avoiding Trial With a No Contest Plea
Pleading no contest to avoid trial can have certain advantages. Not having a criminal trial can be beneficial if the outcome of the trial is uncertain or if the defendant does not want facts of the case to be aired in public.
The Pros of Pleading No Contest
Pleading no contest may be beneficial for infraction or misdemeanor cases where civil action may be involved. Under California Penal Code Section 1016(3), a no contest plea in a misdemeanor criminal case cannot be used as evidence against you in a civil case.
A defendant may want to enter a no contest plea to certain crimes such as driving under the influence with injury. In these cases, a victim or victim’s family may sue for restitution in civil court if he/she suffered death or serious bodily injury. This means if you are sued for injuries that you caused (that are also the basis for the criminal charges), your no contest plea to the criminal charges cannot be introduced against you in the civil case.
An Example of a Beneficial No Contest Plea in a Misdemeanor Case
A man is speeding down the highway and his car collides with another vehicle. The man survives but the driver of the other car dies as a result of the collision. Prosecutors charge the man with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. On the advice of his attorney, the man pleads no contest to the charge and receives his sentence.
The other driver’s family decides to file a wrongful death civil suit against the man as a result of the accident. Because the man pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge, the civil lawsuit must proceed as if there was no criminal conviction and the victim’s family must prove that the man was liable in the accident. If the man pleaded guilty to the vehicular manslaughter charge, the guilty plea could have been used by the victim’s family in their civil suit to prove the man’s liability.
By pleading no contest to a charge, you can avoid potential financial loss brought on by civil lawsuits relating to the criminal charge. If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge, it is important to retain an attorney who will fight for an outcome that will be most beneficial to you in your criminal case.
The Cons of Pleading No Contest
Although a no contest plea in a misdemeanor criminal case can’t be used against you in a civil case, a no contest plea in a felony criminal case can be used as evidence against you in a civil case.
Some people may associate pleading no contest instead of guilty in a criminal case to lighter sentencing, however, this is not always the case. When a defendant pleads guilty to a criminal charge, the defendant’s attorney can explain to the judge that the guilty plea shows that the defendant accepts full responsibility for his/her actions. This can be a major factor for the judge in determining sentencing for the defendant.
It is still recommended that a person plead no contest if the court gives the person a choice between a guilty plea and a no contest plea. If you or a loved one is facing a felony criminal charge, it is important to have an experienced attorney who will review your case and help you determine what is in your best interest.
Will a No Contest Plea Result in a Lighter Punishment Compared to a Guilty Plea?
No, a no contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea during your criminal case. The judge will find you guilty when you enter a no contest plea. The judge will also have the same sentencing options whether you enter a guilty plea or a no contest plea.
When is it More Beneficial to Plead Guilty Instead of No Contest?
If you are given the choice of pleading guilty or no contest, you may be offered a plea bargain. In a plea bargain, the prosecutor may insist that you plead guilty rather than no contest. In exchange for your pleading guilty instead of no contest, the prosecutor may recommend a reduced charge or reduced penalties.
Is There Any Way I Can Plead No Contest and Still Beat the Charges Against Me?
No. When you plead guilty no contest it means you are allowing the judge to find a “factual basis” for your plea and find you guilty. Once that happens, the judge will impose your sentence, meaning you are facing the possibility of jail time.
When Can’t a Defendant Enter a No Contest Plea?
A first-time drug offender who wants to avoid jail time and instead be put into a drug diversion program under California Penal Code Section 1000 cannot plead no contest to the drug charge. The defendant must plead guilty. However, the charges can be dismissed when the drug diversion program is successfully completed, resulting in the absence of a conviction on his/her criminal record.