The terms “no contest plea” and “guilty plea” are often used interchangeably in the United States judicial system. No contest pleas are also called nolo contendere or nolo pleas. Although they may be similar and have the same general outcome, these terms have different implications in the context of a criminal charge. Let’s take a closer look at No Contest VS Guilty:
No Contest VS Guilty
Pleading no contest – this means that you accept the conviction but avoid an admission of guilt.
Pleading guilty – means that you accept and admit the fact that you committed the crime with which you were charged.
By pleading guilty in a criminal court case, you admit that you have committed the crime with which you were charged. The guilty plea sends the case directly to the sentencing phase of the court procedure, bypassing the need for a jury trial.
Pleading no contest or nolo contendere is similar to a guilty plea, in the sense that you accept the conviction for the criminal charge. In the case of misdemeanor charges, the no contest or nolo plea can not be used against you as an admission of guilt in civil proceedings.
Another type of plea in the United States criminal court system is a not guilty plea. By entering a not guilty plea, you are informing the court that you are innocent of the criminal charge brought against you. The state is then obliged to prove that you are guilty of the offense during a criminal trial. The state must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that you have indeed committed the offence. The arraignment part of the trial is when you are required to submit your plea – be it guilty, not guilty or no contest.
What is a guilty plea?
When you plead guilty in the course of a criminal proceeding, you are admitting to the court that you committed the offense that is charged. A judge will hear this plea in court so that it becomes a part of the court record. In short, you testify under oath that you understand the crime charge and admit that you are guilty of committing it.
Before being able to plead guilty, you must prove to the judge that you:
- Are entering the plea knowingly and intelligently.
- Understand that you will be giving up several rights by entering a guilty plea.
The judge may ask you several questions regarding to your case, including:
- The nature of the crime or crimes you are charged with.
- That the guilty plea means you acknowledge that you committed the crime or crimes.
- The consequences of your plea (and potential prison sentences it may involve).
- The rights you are waiving by opting to plead guilty.
By pleading guilty, you waive your right to:
- Legal counsel.
- A jury trial.
- Not incriminating yourself.
- The opportunity to cross-examine and confront the accuser.
After you agree with the above, the judge approves the plea and determines that it is fair. After it’s approved, the case turns to the sentencing phase of the criminal court process. No jury trial is held, because it’s no longer needed.
What is a no contest plea?
A no contest plea is similar to a guilty plea – when pleading “no contest” or nolo, you are technically admitting that you are guilty of the crime you are accused of. You will face the same jail or prison sentence that you would if you plead guilty.
Similarly to a guilty plea, the judge must ensure the following:
- That you completely understand the nature and consequences of the plea.
- That you are fully informed that a no contest plea is considered the same as a guilty plea.
- That you are entering the plea knowingly and voluntarily, and are not being misled or coerced to do so.
The judge will also inform you that by pleading no contest, you are waiving the same rights listed above. The difference between a no contest VS guilty plea involves civil court proceedings.
If you plead no contest in a misdemeanor case, the plea cannot be used against you as an admission of guilt if a civil lawsuit arises from the same conduct from which the criminal prosecution was based.
In this case, if the victim in a criminal case sues you, they would be obliged to prove your liability with the use of evidence, but without including your earlier “no contest” plea as evidence.
It’s important to note that in felony cases, a no contest plea or NOLO plea can have the same effect as a guilty plea, meaning that it can be used as an admission of guilt in other legal proceedings, including civil cases. But this does not apply to all jurisdictions.
It’s also important to note that you may not always have the option to plead no contest instead of pleading guilty. In certain cases, prosecutors may insist that you plead guilty as part of your plea bargain. Judges, on the other hand, are not required by law to accept no contest pleas.
What is a plea of not guilty?
A not guilty plea is the third type of plea in criminal cases. By pleading “not guilty” you are telling the court that you did not commit the crime you are charged with. Once you enter a not guilty plea, the state has the burden of proof and must show “beyond all reasonable doubt” that you did indeed commit the offense you were charged with in the first place.
The state will try to accomplish this at a criminal jury trial, where the prosecution presents the evidence that they have. The not guilty plea will always bring about a trial.