What Is a No Contest Plea and When Should You Make It?
When you stand before the court of law and enter a plea, you have four options: guilty, not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity and no contest. It’s most common for defendants to enter a not guilty plea, but there are instances where a no contest plea is appropriate. An Arizona criminal defense attorney can help you determine what is right for your specific situation.
What is a plea?
A plea is your on-record response to the criminal charges against you. In a criminal case, you are the defendant and can pick from the options of guilty, not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity or no contest when it comes time to enter your plea. The judge will formally note or enter your response into your official hearing file.
When entering a no contest plea, you in no way admit guilt, but you recognize the validity of the facts against you. You might also hear a no contest plea referred to as “nolo contendere.”
Why you might consider a no contest plea
No contest is admissible when the defendant has some sort of impairment where they can’t remember the details or event of what happened as to why they are sitting in court. Choosing to enter a no contest plea is you saying that you recognize that the facts against you are true but that you don’t necessarily take on the consequences or sentencing of those facts.
A no contest plea can be beneficial if you have reached a point in your case where the evidence is too strong against you and you don’t stand a chance at winning. No contest is better than guilty though because it cannot be used against you in other, outstanding cases.
For example, if the defendant stole from a store and caused damage in the process, he might be facing both criminal charges for the illegal activity and a lawsuit in small claims court for the store to sue for the damages. If the defendant pleads guilty to the criminal case, that guilt is admissible in the lawsuit proceedings. A no contest plea though is not usable in the lawsuit case.
When pleading guilty is better than no contest
If the prosecution offers a plea deal, you might be required to enter a plea of guilty to receive the deal. Only an Arizona criminal defense attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons of accepting a plea deal and entering a guilty plea before the judge.
Once you enter your guilty plea, you can’t go back and change it, so be sure that you’re well informed before moving forward. Though plea deals are often less sentencing than the maximum for your offense, that doesn’t always mean that they are the best possible agreement that you could get. That’s where your attorney can really step in and provide insights.
A judge can deny a no contest plea. Both the judge and the prosecutor must consent to your plea entry. Once approved, the judge will explain to the defendant how he or she will now be considered guilty of the crime with a no contest plea. Once the defendant states that they understand the consequences, the judge will ask whether or not they are entering the plea freely and without coercion.
At this point, the defendant moves to a sentencing hearing where the defendant will learn what his or her punishment will be for the crime they have been found guilty of. If you’re unsure of whether or not to enter a no contest plea, discuss the matter with your Arizona criminal defense attorney to learn more.
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