When someone is charged with a crime they can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.
Often, a guilty or no contest plea is entered as a result of a plea agreement – a deal reached with the prosecutor where the defendant gives up their right to go to trial in exchange for a specific, agreed upon punishment. It is important when entering a plea to understand your options and how a no contest plea is both similar to and different from a guilty plea.
What is a no contest plea?
Pleading “no contest” to a criminal charge is not an admission of guilt like when entering a guilty plea. Instead, a defendant entering a “no contest” plea agrees not to challenge the criminal charge – he accepts the deal reached in the plea agreement without expressly admitting that he committed the crime.
How is a plea of no contest similar to a plea of guilty?
A plea of no contest and guilty are treated identically for sentencing purposes in a criminal case. For example, if a defendant charged with DUI pleads no contest, the court will treat the no contest plea the same as if the defendant had plead guilty. The defendant’s sentence and punishment will not change by pleading no contest instead of guilty.
Why plead no contest?
A plea of no contest is treated differently than a guilty plea if the defendant is sued by the victim in a civil lawsuit. For example, imagine a defendant that beats someone up and is charged criminally with battery and is also sued by the victim in a civil case (a civil battery claim).
If the defendant pleads guilty in the criminal case, his guilty plea can be used against him in the civil case as evidence of his liability. On the other hand, if the defendant pleads no contest in the criminal case, his no contest plea cannot be used as evidence of his liability in the civil case.
For defendants charged with crimes where the victim could also sue in a civil lawsuit, it is important to understand the difference between pleading guilty and pleading no contest. While pleading no contest instead of guilty will have no real effect in the criminal case, it could be important in the civil case.