If you have been involved in a court case in Florida, you may have heard the term “no contest plea.” But what exactly does it mean, and when is it a good option?
No contest pleas may sound less straightforward than the well-known pleas of “guilty” and “not guilty.” For the latter two, you are either admitting to guilt or proclaiming your innocence. Pleading guilty may be necessary when there is indisputable evidence against you and is often required in order to make a plea deal.
However, there is a third option many people are not aware of—a no contest plea.
What is a no contest plea?
The name “no contest” comes from the Latin nolo contendere, which translates as “to not contend”. This means that while you do not plead innocent, you also do not admit guilt. You are not disputing the facts of the case, but you also do not admit to breaking the law.
A no contest plea may be available in both criminal cases and traffic incidents.
For the latter, for example, your taillight is out and you receive a ticket. You repair your vehicle, thus resolving the issue. Pleading innocent is not an option as your taillight was not working at the time. But, you may wish to avoid having an admission of guilt that could be used against you in future civil court cases.
By repairing the problem, you have done your due diligence as a citizen. So, by pleading no contest, you are not disputing the charges but also do not directly admit to guilt.
Is pleading no contest always an option?
No contest pleas are not always an available option. The judge assigned to your case will determine if you can enter a no contest plea in the first place.
Generally, you have a choice between pleading guilty and no contest. If you are offered a plea bargain, however, the prosecutor may insist that you plead guilty rather than no contest. In exchange for your change of plea, the prosecutor would recommend a reduced charge or penalty.
A no contest plea is generally not acceptable in federal court, as U.S. district judges generally require criminal defendants to either admit their guilt or go to trial.
What happens if I make a no contest plea?
1. Your case does not go to trial
During your first court appearance, you will most likely plead not guilty—this initial plea gives your defense attorney time to assess your case and potentially negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor.
If your lawyer decides a no contest plea is the best option, your case will not go to trial. By going to trial, you risk facing the maximum penalty for the crime you have been charged with—sometimes, it is in your best interest to avoid that risk and plead no contest instead.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you decide whether you should bring your case to trial, plead no contest, or accept a plea bargain to potentially reduce the charges against you.
2. You accept a conviction for the charge
As you are choosing not to contest the charges of the case, you are ultimately accepting the conviction that comes after. This could mean anything from paying a fine to time in prison.
Depending on the case, the judge, and your attorney’s ability to negotiate, pleading no contest may reduce the severity of this penalty.
3. You avoid civil liability
Due to the similar outcomes found between the two pleas, a no contest plea and a guilty plea are sometimes considered to be interchangeable. However, this is not the case.
While you will move forward almost as if you pleaded guilty by facing the lawful conviction appropriate for the crime committed, but without civil liability.
For example, imagine Driver A rear ends Driver B. Driver A is accused of being under the influence. Not only does Driver A face DUI charges, but they could also be sued by Driver B in a civil suit.
If Driver A pleads no contest to the DUI charge, they do not admit to anything that would be presented as fact in the civil suit. If the civil suit from Driver B goes to trial, the DUI charges cannot be presented as factual evidence.
Every case is different—therefore, speaking with an attorney is the best way to understand if a no contest plea is best for your case.
How will it appear on my record?
Florida judges have the power to adjudicate or withhold adjudication for a no contest plea. If you enter a plea of guilty or no contest, or if you are found to be guilty at trial, then the court must decide at sentencing whether to enter an adjudication of guilt or to withhold adjudication.
If adjudicated, this means your no contest plea could be viewed as a prior conviction. This may interfere with purchasing a firearm or finding employment. If adjudication is withheld, you are expected to serve your sentence but will avoid a criminal conviction on your record.
Should you plead no contest?
Whether or not you should plead no contest will depend on the specific details of your case and outlying factors. A defense attorney can help explain your different plea options, their potential outcomes, and help you decide which action is in your best interest.
If you want to learn more, criminal defense attorney Mike G Law can help. Just contact Mike G Law today for a case consultation. Our goal is to ensure you have a fair trial and keep the prosecution from violating your rights.