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A no-contest plea will likely still result in a criminal conviction the same as a guilty plea. The term itself “nolo contendere” literally means “I do not wish to contest.” When the offender pleads no-contest, they are not technically pleading guilty but still allow the court to determine their punishment.

There are contingencies.

Some include:

  1. The judge has to decide to accept a no-contest plea
  2. The court has to ensure the defendant completely understands that a “no-contest” plea will likely be considered the same as a guilty plea and that by entering a “no-contest” plea, the court will find you guilty
  3. That you are voluntarily and freely entering your plea (as opposed to being coerced or misled into doing so)

These rights are generally submitted to the offender in a written form. Once all these requirements are fulfilled, and the judge has the waiver (and all other documents needed), the offender will be directly assigned a sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, the judge will decide the sentence or further punishment.

What Exactly is the Benefit of a No-Contest Plea?

The primary benefit of a no-contest plea is usually seen in misdemeanor cases.

When you plead “no-contest” in a misdemeanor case, that plea cannot be used against you as an admission of guilt if a civil proceeding is mounted out of the same conduct from which the criminal prosecution was based. If your criminal defense attorney suspects that this may occur, and a civil proceeding may follow, they are the best ones to determine just how much a no-contest plea benefits the offender.

It’s vital to note that this difference is only relevant concerning misdemeanor or infraction convictions. In felony cases in California, the no-contest plea may not help and could have the same effect on the offender’s case as guilty plea. If a civil case is filed, a no-contest plea will not stop the previous case from being used against the offender. A local criminal attorney fighting to get the best possible outcome for your case should help the offender make this decision.

There still may be other advantages to pleading no contest to a criminal charge.

They might include:

  • An offender avoids the cost of taking the case to a jury trial
  • An offender avoids the publicity that a lengthy trial can cause
  • An offender could receive a harsher punishment if convicted by a trial jury

These three points may affect the offender negatively, and all the aspects of a nolo contendere plea should be discussed between the offender and their criminal defense attorney.

It should be noted that the judge must approve of the no-contest plea, which isn’t a guarantee. This is regularly done in almost all counties in California, except Orange County, which generally has a more complex stand on no-contest pleas.

The no-contest plea has only been allowed in California since 1963, with the addition of Penal Code § 1016(3).  In other words, it is a fairly recent development added to allow the resolution of a case without forcing the defendant to directly admit to the charges.

The history of this plea is interesting. The concept has been around since the reign of King Henry IV (1367-1413) in England. The original law stated that if the court saw fit to allow submission of this plea, the offender could maintain the plea as a defense. In other words, the no-contest plea as described nearly seven hundred years ago, allows an offender to maintain his defense in another action for the same conduct.

What Else Should a Defendant Know About a No Contest Plea?

The charges and details of the offender’s case will determine whether their criminal attorney suggests they plead no contest. A nolo contendere plea does not admit wrongdoing. Instead, pleading no-contest means that you are not going to fight the charges. It might keep a DUI conviction from being used as evidence against you in a civil lawsuit filed by the victims.

In this case, it certainly may benefit the offender to plead no-contest. There are other benefits to pleading no-contest, as well, involving various charges. A criminal attorney will explain the salient details of the case, and the plea, in order for everyone involved to make the correct decision.

A no-contest plea always has to be allowed by the judge in order to be admitted.  A no-contest plea is generally not acceptable in federal court as U.S. district judges require typically criminal defendants to either admit their guilt or go to trial.

Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, a plea of nolo contendere shall be accepted by the court only with its consent and only after it gives due consideration to the views of the parties and the interest of the public in the effective administration of justice.

The nolo contendere plea (no-contest) has various ramifications to consider, along with many possible benefits. It is something to speak with a skilled lawyer about because although it might be complicated, it is always best to fully understand every option available when planning a defense.

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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