No contest, or nolo contendere, is one of three possible ways to plead after an arrest. Pleas are usually entered during the arraignment or at a hearing soon after the arrest. What is interesting about pleas is that the defendant can change their plea at any time. Every action in the criminal process can have meanings beyond the obvious, however, and the way a defendant pleads can carry unintended consequences. Read on to learn more about pleas and no contest pleas in particular.
The Initial Plea
Many defendants are brought before a judge soon after an arrest and asked to enter a plea. In many cases, defendants have not had the opportunity to speak with an attorney at this point and end up pleading not guilty at the arraignment. A criminal law attorney will often recommend that defendants plead in this manner since it is easier to proceed to guilty or no contest pleas from a not guilty plea. On the other hand, pleading guilty from the beginning casts a pall over a case and it can be difficult to explain to the judge why you plead guilty but now want to change your plea to something else.
The Plea Bargain
It's safe to say that plea bargains have become the main way most criminal cases are deposed nowadays. In a plea bargain, the defendant pleads either guilty or no contest and is sentenced without going to trial. Much thought, consideration, and knowledge of the alternatives should go into a decision to accept a plea bargain. A plea of no contest can be used in plea bargains to say "I am not contesting the charges but I am not admitting guilt either". This form of plea is not always on the bargaining table, however. Prosecutors like to count plea bargains as wins and can only do so if the plea is guilty.
What Are the Benefits of Pleading No Contest?
In criminal cases, there is no real benefit to the defendant in pleading no contest over guilty. It might make the defendant feel better about the way the case will appear on their criminal record, however. The legal meaning of no contest, however, is the same as that of a guilty plea and the sentencing is no different either. As a side note, some states utilize the so-called Alford plea rather than or in addition to the no contest option.
Speak with a criminal defense attorney about the issue of pleas after an arrest. The outcome of your case could be riding on your plea.
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