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No-Contest Plea Bargain: When Guilt Doesn’t Matter

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Three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Hugh Douglas, who played with the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League, recently entered a no-contest plea and avoided spending the next few months in prison. Although Douglas’ choice of nolo contendere served him well, criminal defendants should understand the consequences of entering such pleas.

Understanding No-Contest Pleas

In many criminal cases, prosecutors may offer to dismiss charges and reduce punishment in exchange for guilty pleas. The alternative would be for the defendant to proceed with trial and possibly be found guilty; in this case, the charges would stick with a possibility of maximum punishment.

When offered a guilty plea, criminal defendants may counteroffer with nolo contendere. This means that the defendant does not admit or deny being guilty of the criminal charges he or she faces. No-contest defendants, however, agree to the potential punishment as explained to them on an indictment or during an arraignment hearing.

Similarity with Guilty Pleas

To some people, a nolo contendere plea is technically the same as a guilty plea since it appears as a conviction in a criminal record and could result in jail time. Under the common law system of the United States, no contest pleas render criminal convictions impractical in civil court; for example, the family of manslaughter victim may not sue the perpetrator whose nolo contendere plea was accepted by the court.

No-Contest Plea Rationale

A variation on the nolo contendere doctrine is the Alford plea, which some criminal defendants enter when they realize that the weight of evidence and prosecutorial strategy will prompt a jury to return a guilty verdict. Alas, the Alford plea does not assert guilt and does not reduce punishment.

Defendants should not take no-contest and Alford pleas for granted. The court must give permission to enter such pleas, and prosecutors may object. Rejection of nolo contendere may happen if the court believes that the defendant is entering such pleas under political intentions. Prosecutors may also oppose a no contest plea in cases involving victims of violent crimes.

When Nolo Contendere Is Not Accepted

When prosecutors are under political pressure to show convictions, they may object to no-contest pleas since too many of them might not look good on their performance records. Federal courts tend to be more receptive to nolo contendere pleas than some state jurisdictions.

No-contest pleas can also be terminated or withdrawn. If a nolo contendere or Alford plea was reached by means of negotiation, the terms and discussion of the agreement cannot be entered into evidence during further prosecutions, future trials or retrials.

Avoid a Guilty Plea

If you have been arrested, the only thing that truly matters is that you make smart decisions. Failure to do so can result in large fines and time behind bars. To avoid this circumstance, you need to speak with a criminal defense attorney with negotiation experience. Call Brett A. Podolsky today at 713.227.0087 for a free legal consultation session.

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