Nolo Contendere

Nolo Contendere

What does it mean to plead nolo contendere?

People usually plead guilty or not guilty in court when charged with a crime, but there are more than just those two ways to plead.

In addition to guilty or not guilty, a defendant can enter a plea of nolo contendere or no contest where the defendant accepts the punishments of a guilty plea without admitting guilt.

Some states also allow a fourth type of plea called an Alford plea. An Alford plea is a plea of guilty where the defendant maintains his or her innocence. Both nolo contendere and Alford pleas have the same consequences as a guilty plea. The court is within its rights to find the defendant guilty, and the trial can result in a conviction.

Nolo Contendere Plea vs. Guilty Plea

A nolo contendere plea means the defendant is saying, “I am not contesting the charges against me. I will neither attempt to prove my innocence nor disprove my guilt.” In certain situations, a nolo contendere plea can result in a more favorable outcome than a plea of guilty because the plea cannot be held against the defendant in another case or for other charges.

Nolo Contendere Plea vs. Alford Plea

A nolo contendere plea means the defendant accepts whatever punishment the court deems fit but does not admit guilt. An Alford plea means the defendant is pleading guilty but claims his or her innocence. A conviction will result from either plea.

Does Nolo Contendere Go on Your Record?

Each state determines whether a plea of nolo contendere goes on a defendant’s permanent record.

Can Nolo Contendere Be Expunged?

Each state determines whether a plea of nolo contendere can be expunged.

Can Nolo Contendere Be Appealed?

In some cases, an appeal may be possible. Usually, however, a defendant must forgo their right to appeal in order to plea nolo contendere.

Pros to Pleading Nolo Contendere

  • Pleading nolo contendere cannot be used as evidence against defendants in another case or for other charges.
  • Defendants may pay less in legal fees by avoiding court.
  • A judge or jury may pass down a less severe sentence than they would if a defendant pleads not guilty and is found guilty.

Cons to Pleading Nolo Contendere

  • Defendants risk suffering criminal punishments despite their innocence.
  • Sentencing is up to the judge.
  • Some states have mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes that can’t be avoided by pleading nolo contendere.

It is Usually up to the Judge/Court to Decide

Typically, a judge or court must permit defendants to plead nolo contendere. Pleading nolo contendere is not an automatic right.

Can you change a No Contest plea?

Pleading nolo contendere or taking a plea deal usually means defendants give up the right to any appeals. If so, changing a no contest plea can be difficult. Even if defendants are not required to waive their rights to appeal as part of the plea, getting a plea changed is a challenge once sentencing is determined.

Alternative to Nolo Contendere

Pleading not guilty rather than nolo contendere gives attorneys time to investigate a case and build a defense strategy. An attorney can pursue motions to suppress evidence and demonstrate weaknesses in the prosecution’s argument. Those weaknesses could result in charges being reduced or dismissed.

Determining the appropriate plea in each case should be done with the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Weighing the options through a legal consultation is advised before defendants decide how to plea. 

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