What is a “No Contest” Plea? - Criminal Law Legal Blogs Posted by Tonmiel Rodriguez - Lawyers.com

What is a “No Contest” Plea?

Criminal Defense Lawyer Tonmiel Rodriguez is a Board Certified Criminal Law Expert. For more information on Tonmiel Rodriguez, please visit his website: https://www.trlawpa.com/

With a “no contest” plea you neither admit nor deny that the charges are true. You simply choose not to fight them. Also, a no contest plea allows you to maintain a claim of innocence. However, the judge will ask you to acknowledge that you are entering the plea because it is in your “best interest.” See Fla.R.Crim.Pro. 3.172(e). If you don’t acknowledge this the judge can reject your plea.
A “No Contest” or “Nolo Contendere” plea is one of three possible pleas in a criminal case, the other two being a Not Guilty plea, and Guilty plea. See Fla.R.Crim.Pro. 3.170(a).With a “guilty” plea you admit all of the material allegations in the prosecution’s charging document (either an Information or Indictment).

In all but a few important respects, the consequences of a Guilty Plea and a No Contest Plea are identical. They both result in a criminal conviction. Also, a no contest plea exposes you to the same criminal penalties as a guilty plea.

So what is the difference? A no contest plea can protect your rights in subsequent legal proceedings.

For example, let’s say you are involved in an accident. As a result you are charged with Driving Under the Influence. You think the other driver was actually at fault for the crash, but you also can’t get around the fact that you were drinking and driving.

The prosecutor offers you a plea to the reduced charge of Reckless Driving (brings less negative consequences). You want to accept the offer but you don’t want to jeopardize your chances at winning your civil lawsuit for damages.

If you plead “guilty” you would be admitting that you did what the charge alleges i.e. that you drove recklessly. This guilty plea can then be used in civil court by the other driver as evidence to prove you were at fault in the crash. He will argue this plea is an admission of fault on your part.

If you plead “no contest” instead, the other driver will not be able to use your plea, in itself, as evidence. Why? Because the plea does not involve an admission of guilt. In fact, at the plea hearing your lawyer clarified, for the record, that you did not believe you were guilty of reckless driving but were entering a plea because you felt resolving the case was in your best interest.

A “no contest” plea won’t prevent the other driver from using other evidence that you were intoxicated, or driving recklessly, if it exists. He just won’t have a “guilty” plea to brandish in front of the jury. This improves your chances at a favorable outcome.

Another example is found in Violation of Probation cases. If you are on probation, and while on probation, you are accused of having committed a new crime, the prosecutor will initiate proceedings to convict you of a “violation of probation” (VOP).

Before you can be sentenced for a violation of probation,the prosecutor must prove to a judge that you committed the the new law violation in a Violation of Probation Evidentiary Hearing.

This is where it gets tricky. If at the time of the evidentiary hearing you have already plead guilty to the new charge (the VOP case and new charge involve independent and distinct proceedings) , all the prosecutor has to do to prove you violated your probation is to introduce a copy of your guilty plea at the evidentiary hearing. Case closed.

However, if you plead “no contest” to the new charge, you still have a fighting chance. If the prosecutor wants to prove that you violated your probation by committing a new offense he will have to prove it the old fashion way, by calling witnesses to the stand and convincing the judge that you committed the crime. This improves your chances at a favorable outcome.

That being said, there are very important differences between a VOP evidentiary hearing and an actual trial.These differences concern the state’s burden of proof, evidence rules, and rules of procedure. We don’t discuss these differences here but you must consider them before opting for an evidentiary hearing. The following are three examples of these differences:

  • You can be called as a witness against yourself under certain circumstances.
  • Hearsay evidence is admissible although it can’t be the prosecution’s only evidence.
  • The prosecution’s burden of proof is lower i.e. they have to convince the judge of the violation by a preponderance of the evidence, not beyond every reasonable doubt. In other words, they just have to prove that it is more likely than not that you violated your probation in the manner alleged. This is a much easier standard of proof for the prosecution to meet than the reasonable doubt standard.
  • Criminal Defense Lawyer Tonmiel Rodriguez is a Board Certified Criminal Law Expert. For more information on Tonmiel Rodriguez, please visit his website: https://www.trlawpa.com/

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