What is the Difference Between a Guilty Plea and No Contest?

Before you step foot in front of a judge, you need to understand the difference between a guilty plea and no contest.

The judge will ask you how to plea and make arrangements based on that plea. If you claim that you are innocent of the charges, you generally need to go through a trial in front of a judge and/or jury. If you plead guilty or no contest though, the judge can sentence you on the spot based on the current evidence.

As there are some key differences between the two pleas, you need to know more about each one to decide what you will plead.

Accepting Guilt

Both a guilty plea and a no contest plea function in the same way. A guilty plea means that you accept responsibility for your actions and that you are ready to face the consequences of those actions. If you plead no contest though, it essentially means that you accept your guilt without actually accepting your guilt. The judge will still find you guilty and sentence you based on the crimes, but this type of plea will keep others from filing law suits against you based on the crime.

Possible Consequences

The possible consequences that you face depend on your criminal charge(s), the severity of the crime(s), your lifestyle and other factors. For a DUI charge, you might spend a night in jail and pay a large fine, but the judge can also sentence you to rehab, more time in jail or require that you install an ignition interlock device on your car that keep you from driving with alcohol on your breath. More serious crimes like assault or robbery can carry court fees and months or even years in jail. Those facing misdemeanors may receive a fine, time in county jail or community service.

Vs. Plea Bargain

A no contest plea is completely different than a no contest plea. With a no contest plea, the court finds you guilty and sentences you based on that guilt. With a plea bargain, you have the right to plead down to a lesser charge. This often occurs when the prosecution does not believe that it has a strong enough case or enough evidence to find you guilty of a more serious crime. Someone charged with rape may plead down to gross sexual imposition or a more minor crime to avoid jail time.

When to Plead No Contest

After looking at the difference between a guilty plea and no contest, you may want to know when to plead no contest. Micah Schwartzbach, a practicing attorney and writer for Nolo, recommends pleading no contest to avoid pending civil cases or any civil litigation that may come about in the future. If you plead guilty to a DUI that resulted in the injury or death of another person, the individual and/or his or her family can file a civil suit against you for damages and injuries. A no contest plea means that you did not accept responsibility for the accident and may prevent the civil case from moving forward.

Whether you plead guilty or no contest is a decision that you need to make with your attorney. The biggest difference between a guilty plea and no contest is that the judge can sentence you with a no contest plea but you won’t accept responsibility for the crime or charge in court.

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