Nolo Contendere

When charged with a crime, a defendant can plead Guilty, Not Guilty, or Nolo Contendere. Pronounced “NO-lo kawn-TAWN-dray,” this legal term comes from the Latin for “I will not contest.” It is also referred to as pleading No Contest or Standing Mute. There is a related plea known as an Alford plea.

Nolo contendere allows a defendant in a criminal action to accept the court’s punishment for a crime without having to admit guilt. Why is this better than pleading guilty? One crime or criminal action is often tied to another, and a defendant may not want to admit guilt to one crime that might be linked to other actions pending against him or her. Pleading no contest allows the defendant to move ahead in court proceedings without having an admission of guilt on the court records to be used as evidence in another trial. Nolo contendere essentially means that the defendant does not admit nor deny the charges, but will accept the penalties for the crime without protest.

For instance, say that a defendant pleads no contest to charges of reckless driving. The court can impose a fine or other penalties for the charge, but the defendant has not confessed to the crime or admitted guilt. If there is a pending civil action for damages to property, the reckless driving charge cannot be used as evidence to prove that the defendant did actually damage someone’s property.

The prosecutor will have to come up with independent evidence to support the accusation. If the defendant had pled guilty to reckless driving, it would be an easier matter to prove that such reckless driving caused property damage to the plaintiff. Nolo contendere is most likely to be used in cases from which a civil suit for monetary damages is likely to arise, but there are other cases as well that make it a good choice for the defendant.

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