In criminal cases, you always have two plea options: guilty and not guilty. Most everyone knows what these mean. Sometimes, though, you have a third, less commonly recognized option: nolo contendere.
A nolo contendere or, as it’s sometimes called, no contest, plea is where you do not “contest” the charges, but neither do you admit guilt. Essentially, a nolo contendere plea means you either have no defense or choose not to put up a defense against the charges. This plea is a way to accept punishment for a crime without protest without formally admitting or denying guilt for the charges.
Usually, a nolo contendere plea is a part of a plea bargain with the prosecution that allows you to get a lesser sentence than you would face after a guilty verdict at trial. Most people who choose a no contest plea feel that there is enough evidence for a conviction and that they may get a worse outcome during a trial.
Not everyone is allowed to plead no contest. It is usually only offered for certain crimes in Ohio or at the federal level, and you have to get permission from the court. Usually a judge will let you do so if the prosecutor suggests a no contest plea, but the judge can also consider other mitigating circumstances. Generally a no contest plea will have a better chance in the Cincinnati area if you are represented by a Cincinnati criminal lawyer, as it shows that you have been explained your legal rights in these cases.
Is It in My Interest to Plead Nolo Contendere?
Whether or not it is ultimately in your interest to plead nolo contendere in a specific case depends on many factors that you should discuss with an Ohio defense attorney. Still there are a few things that you should always keep in mind with no contest pleas. First, a nolo contendere conviction is still a criminal conviction. It goes on your criminal record and will appear on any background checks for jobs. Unless your offense can be expunged from your record as a part of the plea deal, you should seriously weigh the long-term consequences of a conviction.
A no contest plea is also considered a “strike” for sentencing purposes. If you are later arrested for another crime, a sentence based on a nolo contendere plea will still be considered a previous offense. This can lead to harsher punishments.
Still, there are benefits to no contest pleas. If you have civil proceedings related to the criminal charges that you face, a nolo contendere plea means that anything you say during plea negotiations and the punishment that follows cannot be used as evidence of your liability. For example, if you are arrested for an OVI after crashing into another car, a no contest plea couldn’t be used against you during a lawsuit filed by the other driver. In some cases, this is an important help in minimizing your financial responsibility in a civil case.
Also, plea deals associated with nolo contendere pleas can often offer you much less severe punishments than you might otherwise face. Just like any plea deal, sometimes these are in your best interest and sometimes they are not. An experienced criminal lawyer can help you decide for sure.
If you have been accused of a crime and may be offered a no contest plea, it is important to be aware of all the legal implications before you accept. Call the experienced Cincinnati criminal defense attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates right away if you are arrested and we can help protect your rights and best interests throughout the entire process. We can be reached 24/7 at (513) 338-1890 for a free consultation on your case. You don’t have to be alone in this.