Occasionally, a client will ask about the option of pleading “no contest” to a criminal offense rather than entering a guilty plea. Sometimes, this question is prompted by the misguided assumption that “no contest” plea will result in a different outcome to your criminal case than a guilty plea. Mlive.com recently ran an article where a criminal defendant made that exact assumption when pleading no contest to Using a Computer to Accost a Minor – a sex crime in which a conviction would result in mandatory Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) registration and, in this case, possible deportation.
So what is a “no contest” plea?
The term “no contest” comes from the Latin phrase “nolo contendere” meaning “I do not wish to contend.” If you enter a no-contest plea, it means that, while you do not admit your guilt, you do admit the truth of the facts alleged in the indictment, information or complaint (the so-called “charging” documents that start a criminal or case). For example, in the linked article, the defendant was alleged in the complaint and police report of using Facebook to contact girls in Comstock Park and Wyoming and offer them money in exchange for sex. By pleading “no contest”, he legally informed the court that he did not dispute the allegations contained in the complaint – that he, personally, used Facebook to contact underage girls in Comstock Park and Wyoming and offered them money in exchange for sex. Upon entering a plea of “no contest”, the court will review the criminal complaint and police report and will accept the allegations contained therein as fact. Pleading “no contest” in a criminal matter brings about the same results and consequences of a guilty plea.
So what is the point of pleading no contest rather than guilty?
The major benefit of pleading no contest rather than guilty is that it allows a defendant to deny the actions or allegations at a later civil or administrative trial. To enter a plea of guilty, the defendant must admit on the record that he or she actually committed the acts that form the basis of the criminal complaint. If that defendant was to be sued later in a civil trial, the opposing party could use the factual admissions he or she made during the criminal guilty plea against that defendant in the civil matter. A plea of “no contest” would allow that defendant to deny responsibility at a later civil trial.
When can you plead “no contest”?
The ability to plead no contest is at the discretion of the judge. The trial judge does not have to accept a no contest plea and often will require the defendant to provide a legitimate reason why the judge should accept it. The most common case where a judge will accept a “no contest” plea is where a defendant’s level of intoxication affected that defendant’s ability to exactly remember what happened on the occasion of the alleged offense. Judges will also often accept no contest pleas when they are aware that there is a pending or potential civil action related to the alleged offense.
The bottom line that everybody needs to know about a “no contest” plea is that for all practical criminal purposes and consequences, it is the same as a guilty plea. A “no contest” plea will not save a criminal defendant from the judicial and collateral consequences of a criminal conviction. For purposes of the criminal action, a person who pleads no contest is in the same position he or she would have been in had that defendant plead guilty and admitted to the charged offense. That defendant will also suffer the same consequences as if he or she had plead guilty.
If you are charged with a criminal offense and have questions regarding the legal consequences or no contest, contact the attorneys at Springstead Bartish & Borgula Law for a free consultation.