What are the Disadvantages of a No Contest Plea?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A no contest plea or nolo contendre is usually one of three options given to people when they are charged with any form of offense, from a simple traffic ticket to very serious crimes. This plea is quite specific and is a defendant’s way of stating he doesn’t necessarily agree with the charges, but isn’t going to contest them. This is not a statement of guilt, per se, though it is often interpreted in this manner. Usually, when a person makes a no contest plea, they are doing so for a plea bargain or to speed up a trial, but people considering nolo contendre do need to reflect on its disadvantages.

Someone issued a traffic ticket often enters a no contest plea.
Someone issued a traffic ticket often enters a no contest plea.

The first of these is that no contest means no chance to defend against the charges. While this may be an advantage to some people, it is a definite disadvantage to others. Once a person accepts the charges, whether or not he or she is guilty, the court moves pretty quickly to sentencing. This may mean things are over quickly and a verdict is rendered. In plea bargains people often agree to plead no contest to lesser offenses in exchange for smaller sentences or punishment. On the other hand, when people want to tell their story to a jury or judge, they won’t get to, and this means losing the opportunity of being found not guilty on all charges.

A judge must approve a plea bargain before it is final.
A judge must approve a plea bargain before it is final.

No contest frequently results in a guilty verdict. A person who is not guilty may not want this on their record, and most people don’t understand the distinction between pleading guilty and pleading that they don’t want to fight. In fact, the plea is of less consequence than being convicted of a crime. It really doesn’t matter what people plead if they have a criminal record. This issue is important to carefully weigh; if the charge is small and will quickly disappear, nolo contendre could be a good option, but it might be a poor one if people are convicted of crimes that will exist on their record for long periods of time.

A no contest plea is often interpreted as a statement of guilt.
A no contest plea is often interpreted as a statement of guilt.

In this issue of creating expediency in trials, many people believe they will curry favor with judges who sentence, should they plead no contest. This is usually not true and in certain instances, a judge may be able to throw out a plea bargain that he or she feels is insufficient. Frequently, when it comes to sentencing, there is very little difference between not admitting to a crime but not claiming innocence, and pleading guilty. Sentence, when left up to a judge could be exactly the same with both these pleas, and there may be no advantage to not contesting the charges.

It really doesn't matter what people plea if they have a criminal record.
It really doesn't matter what people plea if they have a criminal record.

For many people, the issue of pleading no contest goes against the grain, particularly when they believe themselves to be innocent. It is not a statement of innocence, and while it is also not a statement of guilt, it represents willingness to be charged as though guilty. A number of people would prefer their day in court to prove their innocence, and some would prefer to be convicted of a crime they didn’t commit if it meant they could continue to maintain they were not at fault. It’s still a judgment call and consulting with a good lawyer can be an excellent means of determining which type of plea is best.

Lawyers may advise their clients whether to enter a "guilty" or "no contest" plea.
Lawyers may advise their clients whether to enter a "guilty" or "no contest" plea.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

sapphire12

Many people in the past have submitted no contest pleas because they were not aware of their options, or told that they did not have money to continue in court. Remember that anyone is entitled by law to legal council when they are accused of a crime, and your own wealth should have no bearing on the ability to get a good lawyer.

panda2006

As the article states, it is important to make sure you get good legal advice before really considering a plea of no contest. In some cases, this may mean going to multiple sources if possible. while something like a no contest speeding ticket makes perfect sense, bigger charges require a great deal of thought to decide on a plea.

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