A no contest plea is often available to a defendant. Though common, many defendants have a fundamental misunderstanding of the no contest plea. Before entering a no contest plea, a defendant should understand what it is and perhaps more importantly what it is not.
A no contest plea is not a finding of innocence. Nor is it an avoidance of a finding of guilt. A plea of no contest results in a finding of guilt and a conviction. As such, a no contest plea has the same ramifications as a guilty plea. This means a number of things.
First, a no contest plea carries all the same penal consequences as a guilty plea. Thus, the defendant does not get a lighter sentence as a result of a no contest plea. Both jail time and probation are equally harsh. It will do little good to argue for lighter jail time or probation due to the no contest plea. In fact, if the court or probation believes the no contest plea is an avoidance of responsibility, the consequences could in fact be more severe.
Second, the finding of guilt will show on the court records. Thus, future employers will see the finding of guilt. For immigrants, a no contest plea and the finding of guilt can have very serious immigration consequences including removal. This finding cannot be erased or expunged except in extremely rare circumstances.
Finally, the no contest plea does not reserve any of the defendant’s trial rights. In entering a no contest plea, the defendant gives up the same set of trial rights that would be forfeited with a plea of guilty.
In light of the above, the obvious question that arises is exactly what is a no contest plea and what are the advantages? A no contest plea is basically an admission by the defendant that the state has a very strong case and likely would prevail at trial. Though the no contest plea results in a finding of guilt and conviction, it is not an admission of guilt. This is a distinction that is hard for many defendants to understand and forms the basis for a general misunderstanding of the no contest plea.
So why enter the no contest plea? First, with a guilty plea, the defendant must give a statement in court. The statement is given to set the factual basis for the plea, meaning that there are sufficient facts to show the defendant committed the crime and that it was committed within the court’s jurisdiction. In many cases; 1) the defendant may not want to give the statement, 2) there may be disadvantages to the defendant giving the statement, or 3) the defendant simply cannot or will not give statements sufficient to establish the factual basis for the plea.
The first two reasons are often related to one very important advantage of a no contest plea. It is not an admission of guilt and therefore cannot later be used as an admission of guilt in a civil lawsuit.
The no contest plea should not be entered lightly. It has serious consequences and few advantages. Before entering any plea, no contest included, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney so that you fully understand the nature and consequences of the plea.