How Does a “Nolo Contendere” Plea Work?
When you appear in court to answer to criminal charges, you have three choices of plea: Guilty, not guilty and nolo contendere. You may know “nolo contendere” better by its more common name: no contest. The Latin term means “I do not wish to contend,” which is why more people are familiar with that term than the official one. What exactly does it mean to plead no contest?
When a person enters a plea of nolo contendere, they are essentially pleading guilty without admitting guilt. In other words, the defendant is telling the court that they will accept the punishment but doesn’t admit guilt. This plea is often entered in cases of physical assault where the victim could also sue in civil court. When a defendant pleads “nolo contendere,” the plea cannot be used against them in the civil case.
For example, Robert is at the bar with friends. He gets into a physical altercation with Steve. Robert punches Steve and breaks his jaw. The criminal prosecutor charges Robert with assault. Steve also sues for compensation in civil court. When Robert pleas “nolo contendere,” Steve’s personal injury lawyer cannot use Robert’s plea as evidence that he is financially responsible for Steve’s injuries. However, it does not absolve all guilt for Robert in civil court.
Judges Can Deny No Contest Pleas
Nolo contendere pleas are different than guilty and not guilty pleas in that judges do not have to accept them. In other words, a judge has to be willing to allow a defendant to enter such a plea. A judge typically considers the crime, the criminal history of the defendant and the public interest before allowing a plea of no contest.
In simple cases, a judge may accept a plea of nolo contendere in cases that involve misdemeanors. Other judges may accept such pleas in felony cases. In federal court, however, judge’s rarely accept pleas of no contest. This is because they do not want to appear as being lenient on defendants who appear before them.
A judge cannot accept a guilty plea unless there is enough evidence to suggest that the defendant did indeed commit the crime. This is to protect people from pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. The same rules do not apply to nolo contendere pleas. In most cases, the judge can accept such a plea without determining whether or not there is evidence pointing to the defendant’s guilt.
Pleading nolo contendere is not a way to get out of being punished by a court. Before entering such a plea, a defendant should speak to their attorney and explore all of their options.
If you have been charged with a crime in Atlanta, we are happy to speak with you at no cost and help you determine your options. Hawkins Spizman Fortas is here to put together a defense that is unique to your situation. Call today to schedule your free case evaluation and discover what we believe to be your best course of action.