When you think of criminal convictions, you may think someone can be either guilty or innocent. If you've been at a court hearing or have faced criminal charges yourself, you may be aware that there is a third plea you can enter for those who are not guilty but who cannot, or do not want to, prove their innocence. This is the no contest plea, also called nolo contendere. Nolo contendere is Latin for "I do not wish to contest". This plea essentially means you accept that you will be convicted and punished for the crime at hand but that you do not wish to establish or disestablish your guilt. This is really a matter of responsibility and liability. Keep in mind that you can still be convicted of and punished for a crime if you plead nolo contendere. Unless you can prove your innocence in light of the prosecution's evidence against you, pleading innocent may do little for your case, other than bring it to trial. Nolo contendere is a plea that allows you to avoid pleading guilty, and thus admitting guilt and assuming liability, to the crime. Since you can still be sentenced as if you were guilty, you may wonder what the benefit of a nolo contendere plea is. The main reason why not admitting guilt can be in your favor, despite you being charged anyways, is for the purpose of any potential civil law suits that may arise from your criminal action. An admission of guilt for a crime is always risky in the eyes of the law. If you plead guilty to a crime, you have assumed liability for any damages that arise from that crime. The criminal justice system is just one part of the California court system. This system deals with the conviction and punishment of criminal offenders. The civil court system handles civil actions. If you plead guilty to a crime and there is potential civil suit at hand, your guilty plea can be held against you in such a suit because you have already admitted guilt. For example, if you plead guilty to a crime, the victim, if any, may be able to seek restitution and collect damages from you. A guilty plea automatically fulfills the requirement for the plaintiff to prove your liability. However, if you do not plead guilty, they will have an additional burden of proof; they will have to prove that you were guilty of the crime and are liable for the damages. Having a guilty plea on paper is just a simple way to prove your guilt and liability. This is only the case for misdemeanor crimes. For felony convictions, a nolo contendere plea will not exonerate you from any culpability in the case of civil suits. For a felony, nolo contendere is seen as essentially the same as a guilty plea. Keep in mind that you may still be ordered to compensate any victims for damages sustained as a result of your actions. This is especially pertinent in cases of property damage or personal injury. A guilty plea is enough evidence in a civil suit to establish your liability. Without it, the burden is on the plaintiff to demonstrate your liability, which may be difficult after the fact. Prior to entering your plea, the courts will inform you on the ramifications of the nolo contendere plea to ensure you are aware of what making such a plea means. This is essentially to make sure you know that the courts can and will sentence you as if you pleading guilty. It is important to note that you cannot plead nolo contendere for all crimes. You may not be allowed to enter a nolo contendere plea in every case and in every court. The court must allow it and the rules and stipulations for this will vary. Speak to a criminal defense attorney if you want to find out whether a nolo contendere plea is right for your case.
Are you facing criminal charges in the Tulare, Kings or Fresno County area and have questions about pleading no contest? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team. With ten years experience handling criminal defense cases, attorney Christopher Martens can ensure you take the right steps towards a favorable outcome for your case. Mr. Martens has handled thousands of criminal defense cases and has taken over 50+ cases to trial. He will not be afraid to take your case all the way and fight for your rights.Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.