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What are the pros and cons of pleading no contest?

Many people view the potential pleas in a criminal case as binary: guilty or not guilty. In reality, there is a third option for an accused individual. They could file a plea of no contest.

What does a no contest plea actually mean for someone facing criminal charges? And are there benefits? Here’s an explanation.

What happens when you plead no contest

Filing a plea of no contest – sometimes referred to with the Latin term “nolo contendere” – is something of a middle option. By pleading no contest, you are not admitting to any of the actions or behaviors laid out in the criminal charges. However, you are actively choosing to not contest the charges.

This is often done after some negotiating by your defense attorney. It’s important to note a judge has some discretion to bar you from pleading no contest in certain cases.

In terms of punishment, the outcome is not much different from pleading guilty as part of a plea bargain. You will forego your right to a jury trial. The court will hand down a sentence, the parameters of which you will be advised of ahead of time, and the case will go down as a conviction on your criminal record.

Possible benefits to a no contest plea

There are a couple of significant reasons why someone accused of a crime may consider filing a no contest plea. First, it saves them from having to go through the lengthy, sometimes unpredictable process of a criminal trial. If you’re unsure how a jury might react to your supporting evidence, for example, this might be a sensible option.

The second reason has to do with protecting yourself should a related civil suit arise.

Say you got caught in the middle of a scuffle and wound up facing criminal charges. Meanwhile, someone injured in the incident decided to file a civil lawsuit against you, claiming your actions caused their suffering.

If you plead guilty to the criminal charges, you are essentially admitting to the allegations. The injured person can then point to that as evidence in the civil trial against you.

If, however, you plead no contest to the criminal charges, you are not admitting to anything. Because of this, the injured party can’t use the outcome of the criminal case against you as they pursue a civil suit.

Pleading no contest is not something to take lightly. There are some benefits, but doing so also comes with potential costs. These are all things you will want to discuss with your defense attorney before making your final decision.

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