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Pleading ‘No Contest’

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If you’re facing criminal charges, you may have the option to enter a no contest or nolo contendere (“I do not wish to contend”) plea. Your criminal defense lawyer will explain the possible benefits of entering a no contest plea if it is available in the jurisdiction in which you were charged with a crime.

A no contest plea may be used in a criminal proceeding as an alternative to a “not guilty” or “guilty” plea, in which the defendant neither admits nor denies doing a crime. Although the defendant has the automatic right to plead guilty or not guilty, he or she must request the court’s permission to enter a no contest plea. A no contest plea may be used in the plea negotiations in a criminal case.

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Entering a “No Contest” Plea in Texas

Before the presiding judge accepts a plea in open court, he or she ensures that the defendant is aware of:

  • The crime he or she is accused of
  • His or her agreement to forego the legal right to a jury trial
  • A no contest plea may result in a criminal conviction (and any of the resulting punishments as prescribed by law)
  • His or her no contest plea is voluntary

Advantages of Entering a “No Contest” Plea

Other benefits and advantages to a no contest plea include:

  1. Avoidance of publicity that may occur in a long trial (especially if a defendant has prominent community standing or personal fame)
  2. Acceptance of blame for another party (to avoid his or her investigation)
  3. Expedition of the court’s process to a lesser charge (if a defendant now faces serious charges)
  4. Receipt of a lighter sentence (if a defendant is facing harsh punishments that may result from trial and conviction)

Disadvantages of Entering a “No Contest” Plea

Although entering a no contest plea isn’t an admission of the defendant’s guilt, he or she remains subject to the same punishments as if he or she pleaded guilty.

A judge treats the no contest plea in the same way he or she treats the defendant’s admission of guilt.

While the defendant didn’t admit or deny doing a crime, the court retains its ability to sentence him or her as though he or she committed it. In addition, the crime (and penalties) appears on his or her criminal record if a conviction occurs.

For that reason, if the defendant enters a no contest plea for a crime, the crime remains an aggravating factor if he or she commits future crimes. That is, an aggravating factor is a prior crime (or other poor behavior) used to increase available penalties for the defendant’s conviction.

For instance, if the defendant pleaded no contest in a drunk driving criminal proceeding and three years later he is arrested for a second DUI, the first DUI in which he entered a no contest plea is against considered when the court considered his or her second DUI sentence. Since the defendant has a prior DUI on the criminal record, his sentence for the second offense will probably be more severe.

Plea Bargains Often Benefit Criminal Defendants

Statistics show that many criminal cases involve plea bargains. Plea bargains frequently benefit the criminal defendant as well as the prosecutor. A plea bargain in an agreement in which the defendant agrees to plead “guilty” or “no contest” in an exchange for the prosecutor’s agreement to drop or decrease the severity of the charges facing the defendant.

The decision to negotiate a plea agreement includes pros and cons. It’s important for the defendant and his or her criminal defense lawyer to discuss these before entering into a plea agreement.

Timing and control of the plea agreement

Pro: The defendant and his or her defense lawyer may negotiate a plea bargain at any time in the criminal proceeding. The decision to negotiate a plea bargain is much faster and less expensive than a criminal trial.
However, if the defendant doesn’t negotiate a plea agreement, the criminal trial could take days or months. By negotiating the plea agreement, he or she knows the sentences and doesn’t endure the stresses and strains of a lengthy criminal trial.

In addition, the criminal trial outcome may be unpredictable. A plea bargain offers the defendant and prosecutor some measure of control over the case results. Conversely, if the case goes to trial, the defendant’s future is more uncertain.

Lighter punishments and less serious charges

Pro: One of the major benefits of the plea bargain is the receipt of lesser punishments for a less serious charge (when compared to the result of a post-trial conviction).

Often over-worked prosecutors face risks in bringing the defendant to trial. He or she may agree to offer less serious charges to the defendant by a plea bargain. The decision helps the prosecutor to take the case forward but doesn’t involve the preparation necessary for trial. The defendant may benefit from less serious charges and lighter punishments.

Loss of rights and a criminal record

Con: The decision to accept a plea bargain results in a conviction and criminal record. The defendant thereby loses privileges and rights, e.g. his or her right to vote, that he or she would lose if the criminal trial resulted in a conviction. He or she may also face future challenges in finding a good job because of the criminal record.

Decision to forego innocence

Con: Once a defendant agrees to a plea bargain, he or she pleads guilty or no content to the charges. The defendant foregoes his or her innocence, even if he or she is actually innocent of them.

If the defendant rejects the plea bargain and goes to trial, he or she may maintain innocence. The prosecutor shoulders the burden of proof. He or she must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Negotiating a plea deal lessens the prosecutor’s burden but may prompt the defendant to enter a guilty plea for a crime he or she didn’t commit.

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No Contest Plea Conditions

The defendant isn’t allowed to elect to enter a nolo contender plea. He or she must request the prosecutor’s permission first. If the prosecutor accepts the plea, the defendant and his or her defense attorney must obtain the judge’s permission.

In other words, the judge maintains the right to accept or refuse the plea—even if the prosecutor already accepted it. The judge considers the case’s mitigating factors, such as:

  • The mental state of the defendant (and his or her perceived ability to discern their legal rights in the case)
  • Victims’ damages and injuries

Many criminal cases tried in federal court allow defendants to submit no contest pleas. There are certain restrictions on those crimes allowing for no contest pleas in Texas.

A no contest plea may count as a strike in a state with three strike laws. If the defendant withdraws a no contest plea, the prosecutor is prohibited from using the information provided in the plea negotiation if the defendant is later brought to trial for the same charges.

Entering a no contest plea might not be available in some states. Some states limit the use of no contest pleas in specific circumstances. Conversely, federal rules typically allow the defendant to enter a no contest plea in a federal criminal trial.

Is a No Contest Plea is Available or Advisable?

When you enter a no contest plea, you allow the judge to find the factual basis for the plea. You may be found guilty. At that time, the judge imposes your sentence. You may face the possibility of jail time.

To determine whether a plea bargain is a good choice for you, consider the pros and cons above. Most importantly, discuss your case with an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer who will help you negotiate the most favorable agreement possible.

To learn more about whether a no contest plea is available, or advisable, in your case, contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky in Houston at 713-227-0087 now.

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