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Pleading ‘No Contest’

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If you are a defendant in a criminal case, one of the options that may be available to you is to plead no contest or “nolo contendere.” If a no contest plea is available in the jurisdiction where you have been charged with a crime, your criminal defense attorney will advise you of its possible benefits.

The Benefits of Pleading No Contest

Most criminal cases are resolved with a guilty plea or plea agreement. Many criminal defendants agree to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser charge or a reduced sentence. Though pleading no contest to a criminal charge is similar to pleading guilty, it allows a defendant to accept the punishment for a given crime without an admission of guilt or innocence.

A defendant does not inherently possess the right to enter a plea of no contest. The presiding judge will usually allow a defendant to enter a plea of no contest if the prosecutor is agreeable. Nevertheless, there are certain factors that may influence the judge’s decision:

  • Mitigating circumstances, including a defendant’s ability to understand right from wrong
  • Personal characteristics, such as whether a defendant is able to speak English or was represented by legal counsel
  • Degree of culpability in the commission of a crime when compared to co-defendants

Entering a No Contest Plea

Prior to accepting a plea in open court, the presiding judge will make certain the defendant knows:

  • The specific crime he is accused of committing
  • A no contest plea will result in a criminal conviction and the punishment prescribed by law
  • He is foregoing the right to a jury trial
  • His plea must be voluntary

While a no contest plea can be used against a defendant in any future criminal proceeding, it is not admissible in a civil lawsuit in order to prove culpability. Nevertheless, it will result in a criminal record and counts as a strike in states with “three strike” laws. If a defendant decides to withdraw a no contest plea, the prosecution cannot use information obtained during a plea negotiation if the defendant is ultimately brought to trial for the same charge.

The option of entering this type of plea may not be available in particular states. Many states also limit the use of a no contest plea to designated criminal offenses. On the other hand, federal trial rules generally allow defendants to enter a no contest plea in a criminal case.

To learn whether a no contest plea is available or advisable, speak with Brett A. Podolsky at 713-227-0087.

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