Entering a ‘No Contest’ Plea: The Pros and Cons Every Defendant Should Know

When a person is charged with committing a crime, that person is allowed to enter a plea to the court that is hearing the case. In most cases, the defendant’s plea will be based on the advice and knowledge of an attorney. However, the final decision about how to plead rests with the defendant.

A plea of “guilty” means that the defendant accepts responsibility for the crime and agrees to face the consequences. This is usually done to raise the defendant’s chances for receiving a more lenient sentence. A plea of “no contest”, also known as “nolo contendere,” means that the defendant agrees to the legal consequences of the criminal action without making a formal statement regarding their guilt or innocence.

Benefits of a No Contest Plea

There are several reasons that a defendant may have for pleading no contest. In most cases, the defendant will plea no contest to protect themselves from future legal action after their case has cleared the docket. Some victims will try to file a lawsuit against the defendant in a civil case.

A no contest plea protects the defendant from future lawsuits that are based on the conviction from the original trial. Also, a defendant may wish for his record to reflect that he cooperated with the court without officially admitting that he was responsible for the crime.

Drawbacks of a No Contest Plea

There are potential negative consequences to entering this plea. Because nolo contendere pleas lead to criminal convictions, the crime can be referenced in any future prosecution against the defendant for other criminal actions. In this sense, no contest pleas are essentially the same as a guilty pleas.

Conditions of a No Contest Plea

A defendant is not allowed to simply choose to enter a no contest plea. They must first request the permission of the prosecutor in the case. If the prosecutor agrees to allow the plea, the defendant must then secure the permission of the judge. The judge reserves the right to refuse the plea whether or not the prosecution accepts it.

When considering whether or not to allow the plea, the judge will consider any mitigating factors in the details of the case. Such factors may include:

  • The defendant’s mental state
  • The harm or damages to the victim
  • The defendant’s perceived ability to understand their legal rights regarding the case

Most criminal cases held in federal court allow for the submission of no contest pleas. However, not all states have this provision and may not even have an option for pleas other than guilty and not guilty. There may also be restrictions on which crimes allow for no contest pleas.

For more information on guilty pleas and nolo contendere pleas, talk to attorneys The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp at 713-868-6100.