Difference between Guilty and No Contest

Nolo Contendere

The purpose of entering a no contest plea is often to avoid being sued civilly for essentially confessing to a crime, which is the basis of a guilty plea. If the no contest plea restricts someone from sueing you civilly for an action, why would anyone enter a plea of “guilty” to charges against them?

Pleading guilty means you admit the charges, you have no defense for your actions, and the court can go ahead and levy punishment against you.

The court first ensures that you entered the guilty plea voluntarily and that they have some reason to believe you are telling the truth. It is not unheard of, for example, for a parent to plead guilty to a crime to protect their child. The prosecutor must explain what evidence they would have had against you had you pled not guilty and a trial had been set.

Pleading no contest or nolo contendere means you admit no guilt for the crime, but the court can determine the punishment. The judge will hold a conversation with the defendant to ensure s/he understands the plea and the possible punishment. This gives the defendant an opportunity to explain the circumstances and why s/he is pleading no contest instead of guilty or not guilty. Through this conversation, the judge gains a better perspective on the situation. The defendant has some possibility of getting a less harsh sentence than might be handed down after a jury trial.

Restrictions on pleading no contest vary between states, and in some jurisdictions it is prohibited. It is unlikely that the court will allow you to enter a nolo contendere plea while vigorously denying your guilt to the media. This would be known as an Alford plea, based on a 1963 murder case in North Carolina. The defendant pled guilty to second-degre murder to avoid the death penalty, but still vocalized his innocence. Neither the nolo contendere plea nor the Alford plea could later be used in a civil action as evidence against the defendant.

AK Alaska LA Louisiana OH Ohio
AL Alabama MA Massachusetts OK Oklahoma
AR Arkansas MD Maryland OR Oregon
AZ Arizona ME Maine PA Pennsylvania
CA California MI Michigan RI Rhode Island
CO Colorado MN Minnesota SC South Carolina
CT Connecticut MO Missouri SD South Dakota
DE Delaware MS Mississippi TN Tennessee
FL Florida MT Montana TX Texas
GA Georgia NC North Carolina UT Utah
HI Hawaii ND North Dakota VT Vermont
IA Iowa NE Nebraska VA Virginia
ID Idaho NH New Hampshire WA Washington State
IL Illinois NJ New Jersey WI Wisconsin
IN Indiana NM New Mexico WV West Virginia
KS Kansas NV Nevada WY Wyoming
KY Kentucky NY New York DC Washington DC