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What Is a Nolo Contendere or No Contest Plea?


After being arrested and charged with a criminal offense, you can plead guilty or not guilty to the charges against you. You probably already know this. But do you know there is a third option? Sometimes, criminal defendants are allowed to plead no contest or nolo contendere. Read on to find out what it means to plead no contest/nolo contendere, the difference between a guilty and nolo contendere/no contest plea, and why defendants enter a nolo contendere/no contest.

What Is a No Contest/Nolo Contendere Plea?

The legal system uses Latin phrases quite a lot. Nolo contendere is one of the many Latin words that can make it challenging for criminal defendants to understand the criminal justice system. Nolo contendere translates to “I don’t wish to contend,” which, in short, is no contest. Some states use the term nolo contendere, whereas others use the term no contest. Regardless of the term used, the outcome is the same. Moving forward, we will use the term no contest.

So, what is a no contest plea? A no contest plea is when a criminal defendant neither denies nor accepts responsibility for the crime they are accused of committing but waives their right to a trial and accepts the penalties for the crime. With a no-contest plea, a criminal defendant is convicted and punished as if they have been found guilty or pleaded guilty.

It is vital to note that in most states in the U.S., criminal defendants do not have the right to plea no contest like they do to plead guilty without the judge’s and/or prosecutor’s permission.

Differentiating Between No Contest Plea and Guilty Plea

While a criminal defendant who pleads no contest is convicted and punished as if they had pleaded guilty, there is a major difference between guilty pleas and no contest pleas. With a guilty plea, you admit guilt, whereas with a no-contest plea, you do not admit guilt. Because a no-contest plea means you decline to fight the charges against you, the judge will not ask you questions to establish that you committed the crime in question, unlike the case with a guilty plea. With a no-contest plea, you do not have to make any admissions. After you plead no contest, the judge will consider the prosecution’s version of events when deciding your sentence.

Why Do Criminal Defendants Plead No Contest?

You may wonder what the point of pleading no contest is if you will be treated as if you pleaded guilty. So, why do people plead no contest? One of the main reasons people plead no contest is to prevent their plea from being used against them in another legal matter, such as a civil lawsuit. Often, a no contest plea cannot be used as an admission of guilt in a related legal matter, such as a civil case.

Another major reason criminal defendants plead no contest is to avoid a public admission of guilt. When a person pleads no contest, they may prevent collateral consequences that follow after an admission of guilt and increase their chances of maintaining their reputation.

Contact Our NYC Criminal Attorney

Before entering a plea, it is highly recommended that you consult a qualified criminal defense attorney. Our skilled NYC criminal attorney, Mark I. Cohen, can offer you essential legal advice and representation throughout your case.

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