What is Nolo Contendere?

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  • Written By: R. Anacan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2020
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Nolo contendere is a legal term used when a person accused of a crime chooses not to contest the charges presented against him. The term nolo contendere is a Latin phrase that means “I do not wish to contest,” or “I will not contest it.” When a person enters a nolo contendere plea, it is often referred to as pleading or entering a plea of no contest.

When a person is accused of a crime, there are three main pleas that may be entered in response to the charges. The first is to enter a plea of guilty, which means that the defendant admits and acknowledges that he is guilty of the crime that he is charged with and agrees to accept the punishment for the crime. The second option for a defendant is to enter a plea of not guilty, which is used when a defendant wishes to deny guilt for the crime that he is charged with. When a plea of not guilty is entered, the prosecutor then has the responsibility of proving the defendant’s guilt to a judge or jury during a court trial.


Nolo contendere is the third type of legal plea that a defendant may enter. When a defendant enters this plea, he does not admit or acknowledge guilt for the crime that he is charged with. However, the defendant does agree to accept the punishment for the crime. In many ways, entering a plea of nolo contendere has the same impact as a guilty plea.

One of the main reasons that an individual may plead nolo contendere is to avoid being sued in a civil lawsuit for damages as a result of pleading guilty to a crime. In many jurisdictions, a defendant who pleads no contest instead of entering a guilty plea cannot be sued in a civil case for damages, because there is no actual admission of guilt. Therefore, a plea of nolo contendere may provide additional civil protections that would not be available to a defendant had he pled guilty. Because of the additional protections that may be provided with a plea of nolo contendere, most court systems have very specific guidelines as to when the plea may be entered.

A plea of nolo contendere is often entered as a result of negotiations between the prosecutor and the defendant in a process often known as plea bargaining. During a plea bargain, the prosecutor may propose to reduce the charges or ask for a reduction in punishment or sentencing, if the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to the charges. A plea bargain enables the prosecutor to avoid a court trial, while also possibly providing the defendant with a lesser sentence or punishment than what would have been received if the case went to trial and the defendant was found guilty of the original charges.


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