In a legal context, the phrases “nolo contendere” and “no contest” are often used interchangeably, but both phrases mean the same thing. As a plea during a trial, nolo contendere signals that the defendant does not wish to contest the charges being brought against them. In fact, the literal translation from Latin is “I do not wish to contend.”
Essentially, by entering a plea of nolo contendere, a defendant accepts the consequences of their actions, while at the same time not confirming or denying their guilt. Acceptable in both misdemeanor and felony cases, this plea is treated by the court in a similar manner as a guilty plea and will move forward to sentencing accordingly.
This can be advantageous, as it keeps any admission of guilt from being entered into the record and used against the defendant in any civil lawsuits that may spring from the incident later. However, it is not always available in certain cases, and can only be entered as a plea every five years. It is at the judge’s discretion whether or not to accept a plea of nolo contendere. As with all legal matters, it’s wisest to consult with an attorney before making any decisions.
Nolo Contendere vs. Guilty: What’s the Difference?
While it is generally treated the same as a guilty verdict in a court of law, there are several key distinctions that separate a guilty plea and a nolo contendere plea. A few key factors in a guilty plea are:
- It is an admission of guilt. A guilty plea tells the court that the defendant acknowledges their own culpability and accepts responsibility for committing the criminal act in question. The court will then proceed with determining sentencing, penalties, fines and other punitive measures.
- It stays on the criminal record. Pleading guilty places a conviction on the defendant’s permanent record, creating long-lasting consequences that can hamper their ability to secure housing, employment or professional certifications later.
- It can be used against the defendant later. If a civil lawsuit arises from the same incident, a guilty plea can be used as evidence of an admission of liability.
On the other hand, a few factors that define a plea of nolo contendere include:
- It serves as a neutral plea. When a defendant is seeking to avoid placing an admission of guilt on the permanent record, this please serves as neither an admission of guilt nor a denial of them. The court views a nolo contendere plea as essentially the same as a guilty plea. When they proceed to sentencing, they will follow the same guidelines as if the defendant had plead guilty.
- It has fewer long-term consequences. The defendant’s criminal record will show a nolo contendere plea, but that will not have as great an impact as a guilty plea on education, housing and employment opportunities. It can also not be used against the defendant in subsequent civil proceedings.
Essentially, it all comes down to whether or not the defendant admits liability for their actions. A nolo contendere plea carries similar consequences for that particular case, but far fewer consequences on a criminal record and in later civil litigation.
In certain cases, an attorney may opt to negotiate with the prosecution and enter into a plea bargain agreement. By examining the strengths and vulnerabilities of the case against their client, they can make a strategic decision to enter a plea of no contest or negotiate a plea bargain to hasten the resolution of a case and provide a measure of predictability in otherwise uncertain situations. This is ultimately a strategy designed for the client’s best interest, but in some cases a deal can’t be reached. When that happens, the strongest option available is to take the case to trial.
Another possible plea is an Alfred Plea, a specific plea that allows a defendant to plead guilty to a crime, while maintaining their innocence. This strategy is often invoked when the evidence held by the prosecutor is compelling enough to likely lead to a conviction in court. This plea allows the defendant to avoid the possibility of more severe sentencing that might result from a trial, but does essentially result in the same formal conviction as a guilty plea. In addition, should any civil lawsuits arise from the same incident, an Alford plea can be used against the defendant.
It is similar to a nolo contendere plea in that the defendant accepts the consequences of their actions without making a formal admission of guilt, but is generally used when the compiled evidence is convincing enough that a conviction is all but assured.
After a Nolo Contendere Plea
In the state of Georgia, a defendant who enters a nolo contendere plea voluntarily loses certain rights granted to them by the law. Among these rights are the right to a trial, and potentially the right to an appeal. By entering this plea, they are essentially accepting the same conviction they would receive with a guilty plea as well as any subsequent penalties and sentencing. It’s worth noting that certain jurisdictions and some individual cases carry different implications for entering a plea of nolo contendere.
The Busbee Law Group Difference
At The Busbee Law Group, we know that the smallest details can have the largest impact on a case. Because of this, we dig into every element of your case with an exhaustive vigor for defending your freedom. We work smarter, we prepare more, and by the time we walk into a court room, we know the details of your case better than anyone else. And that includes the prosecution.
Criminal charges can be daunting to face and just because you were accused does not mean you will be convicted. Fortunately, you don’t have to face them alone. Schedule a consultation today and let’s start putting the focus on your freedom.