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What is a No Contest Plea?

A defendant can offer a no contest plea in which he doesn't refute the charges, nor claim guilt.
Accused people who submit no contest pleas usually face a lesser sentence.
A judge must approve a plea bargain before it is final.
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  • Originally Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2014
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When a person is charged with committing a crime, he or she typically is given the opportunity to respond. In many jurisdictions, there are three possible ways for the person to plead: guilty, not guilty or no contest. If the defendant does not enter a plea, a plea of not guilty typically will be entered for him or her. A plea of no contest — or nolo contendre in Latin — means that the person does not refute the charges but also does not claim guilt for the charges.

Result of a No Contest Plea

Although a person who pleads no contest is not pleading guilty or contesting the charges, he or she is often treated as though he or she is guilty. For example, the sentencing might be immediate. The plea also might not result in a reduced sentence, fine or other punishment unless it is part of a plea bargain. A person who wants a trial to defend his or her innocence probably would not plead no contest. Sometimes a court can be petitioned for a change of plea, but this is not always allowed.

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Plea Bargains

In some cases, defendants who believe that they are not guilty but might not be able to win a trial are advised to plead no contest, especially when it is part of a plea bargain. A prosecutors will often offer a plea bargains — including a reduced sentence — to avoid going to trial. A reduced sentence might be attractive for defendants who are not confident in their ability to win a trial. This type of plea bargain can result in a reduced sentence without the person having to admit guilt.

Effect on Civil Cases

This type of strategy might not always be effective, however, particularly if the defendant also is facing a civil court case related to the same charge or charges. In fact, a no contest plea is often looked at as a guilty plea by a civil court. The person, therefore, might be likely to lose a civil lawsuit that is related to the alleged crime. In professions and other fields in which criminal background checks are used, this type of plea is often treated the same as a guilty plea.

Varies by Jurisdiction

The conditions for pleading no contest are determined by the laws in that jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions, including Australia, this type of plea is not allowed, and defendants must plead either guilty or not guilty. Other jurisdictions put restrictions on this type of plea, such as when it can be used or how it is considered by the court.

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Discuss this Article

anon326458
Post 50

I was stopped going 78 in a 65 zone. I was wondering if it was a good idea for me to plead no contest? I'm 17. Please help.

anon316314
Post 49

I was stopped for dark window film, got off with a warning. A K9 unit rolled up and the Florida Highway Patrol asked if I had any weapons or alcohol in the truck. No. Any illegal drugs, etc.? I answered yes. I am a 50 yrs old and have never been in trouble since I was 19-20 years old.

I was charged with a first degree misdemeanor of cannabis under 20 grams (1.5)grams plus first degree misdemeanor of paraphernalia. I was given a appearance in court and am freaking out about what I should do. Plea no contest and ask for community service, probation and a fine? can't have it on my record. I'm a coach, Scouter and father. I'm a good person.

anon315893
Post 48

I was charged with domestic violence and I was later convinced by my attorney to plead a no contest. They sentenced me and I paid $2,000 for my attorney. This is all a game. Don't enter the court. They will make you pay every last penny.

NeedAdvice
Post 47

I've seen a couple of people ask about this, but I don't see any answers. Is it possible to go back and fight a sentence from a no contest plea? This would be after the sentence has been handed down.

I was told to accept a no-contest plea. I had been to court five times already. It was my word against another girl's, I had no money for a lawyer and the Public Defender recommended I take no contest to avoid the DA going for a worse charge for my record at trial. When I agreed, the PD told me I would be liable for medical charges (the other girl fell) of about $2,000.

Once I was sentenced after pleading no-contest, they said it was $5,000 (the public defender didn't have all the "bills." Now the girl is sending in more almost two years later. She got a 1/4 inch cut and it required skin glue. It didn't even need one stitch!

Can I take back my plea and fight this like I wanted to in first place but was scared and got bad advice from the public defender? Please help. I have to go back to court about the new restitution.

anon291726
Post 46

I was charged with a DUI 11 yrs ago in Michigan, the only one I ever had. Now I can't go to Canada because of it. I can't get an fm3 to live in mexico for one year. Michigan will not expunge a DUI charge. It's on your record for life. Is it fair that I be punished for the rest of my life for one DUI? This law has to be changed because it is unfair.

anon207132
Post 42

A who has a warrant to arrest B arrests C by mistake. How will you defend A?

anon182147
Post 41

I got a citation for dog off leash. There ought to be a clause in the ordinance. My dog stays right by me. Now I have to go to court.

anon146169
Post 40

I have a friend who was railroaded for a crime that she absolutely did not do. She had a public defender and was told that if she pled guilty, she could avoid jail time. If she pled not guilty, she would lose because the Federal Prosecutors do not lose their cases. She was also told that she had to give up her right to an appeal. If she did not, she would surely go to jail.

They knew she was innocent, and said as much in a meeting with her lawyer (who was helpless) and they still went after her anyway and were incredibly smug about the fact that they could.

She could not afford a good lawyer - if she could, she would indeed have been proven innocent. So she pled guilty because of her children and now this incredible woman is stuck with a wire fraud felony that she did not deserve and because our government can do anything they want. Does anyone think that she would be eligible for an absolute pardon? She gave up her right to appeal but is that absolute?

anon143168
Post 39

How about this? If someone wants to point fingers at someone else and is willing to be a witness for the police and is all talk at the scene and then does not show up?

I feel the reason they didn't show up is because they are just as guilty of committing a crime and are afraid the real truth will come out and they will be charged. People need to think about their actions in pointing fingers at other people. In some cases they can totally ruin someone's life over the untold truth.

In this the great USA, the court system, from the time you are arrested to the time they force you to take a plea for something that there's more to the story they don't want to hear, you are considered guilty until proven innocent and not the other way around.

I have completely lost all faith in the system. I also feel if there are witnesses who were summoned to court and didn't show, then proper charges should be filed against them. They have a big mouth at the scene of the alleged crime but not big enough to show up for the DA.

Funny how none of the alleged victims went to hospital or showed up in court, but the alleged criminal needed to seek medical attention. Something is definitely wrong with the system. Seems the cops don't know who the real criminals are in some cases.

anon130731
Post 38

i plead no contest to some thing that i did not do i could not afford a lawyer and the public defender told me to plead no contest some one at my job stole my password and stole 10.000.00 and i was charged with it they gave me 3 charges 1/ theft by deception; 2/ theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property. Will these show up as a conviction on my record and can they be expunged? this happened eight years ago.

anon126178
Post 37

In Aug. 2010 I was charged with disorderly conduct. In Oct. I was summoned to court. My court date was in September.

Yes, my summons says September. I called municipal court advising them of the mistake, and I was told I would get a letter in the mail of a new court date. I didn't.

In early November, I found out an arrest warrant would be issued for me five days later, so I go to municipal court to assess my options. I plead no contest and I have to pay $175.00, $50 of which is a late fee for missing court that I never knew about!

Here is the catch: The lady behind the desk pulled out the same summons I had in my hand, but her summons said October and my summons said September. The detective who served me the summons got in his car and scratched out September and wrote October in pencil. How about that?

The municipal court would not give me a copy of what the officer turned into the municipal building. That was their mistake, but is my benefit now.

anon124222
Post 36

Yes you can, anon121128, depending upon your state you can withdraw your no-contest plea if you have not been sentenced yet. Please read the 'rules of criminal procedure' for your state and look 'change of plea'

Remember though, that unless you have a reason, such as a lawsuit that it is going to affect, that removing your plea may not be a wise move. the felony will stay on your record forever and you will experience discrimination forever when applying for jobs,etc

anon121128
Post 35

i was arrested and charged with assault with deadly weapon on a police officer. i was actually jumped by a group of gang members.

i have been going to court for over a year and a half and they told me if i went to trial and lost i was looking at six years state prison so i took a plea deal. They dropped the felony to misdemeanor and gave me one year. i do not feel that justice was served. The guys that actually committed the crime were never arrested. my attorney told me it was best i take the deal. can i take this plea deal back? my court was just a few days ago. thanks.

anon109773
Post 34

i have a court date in a couple of weeks for possession of marijuana. what should i plead? guilty or no contest?

anon84550
Post 33

In Alaska I pleaded no contest to a charge of purchasing liquor with intent to sell. The village

was 400 miles from Anchorage.

I knew it would cost me around $5,000.00 to get a lawyer from anchorage so I pleaded No contest was given fine of $750.00, six months' probation and a 10 day jail sentence.

When I was in jail they took me to another court. I was asked how I plead I said no contest. The judge said you can't plead no contest; it is either guilty or not guilty.

I was guilty of selling one bottle of whiskey so I plead guilty, served my time and probation and have not had more than one speeding ticket in the last 25 years.

I find out that I have a felony charge against me. The first court charged me with a misdemeanor. All this time I have thought that I was charged in the first court. What can I do to get the charges removed?

cahonies0
Post 31

I was at a local ski resort and decided to take what I thought could be a "bypass road." This road was off the side of the parking lot. It was only about 40 yards long and it dropped down maybe four feet.

The reason why I thought it was a road was because there were snowmobile tracks on it, about the width of a roadway (No posted signs). Anyway, I got stuck right in the middle and the sheriff gave me a ticket for "Driving off designated roadway - Snowcat track." I went to the courthouse and they couldn't read the violation code number.

I called them a week later and they said my citation is for "Violation of public health laws or notices of ordinances." This is ironic because the sheriff instructed me that if the EPA was around they would give me a ticket for driving in a watershed, but he could only give me a ticket for driving off a designated roadway.

On my citation it says "snowcat track." I looked up that local ordinance and the prohibited acts include motor vehicles, snowmobiles, atvs, jeeps, etc. Snow mobiles and snow cats can drive on the path without any hassles, but it seems since I got stuck, I get the ticket.

"Violation of public health laws or notices of ordinances" is a class C misdemeanor in the state of Utah, and I really do not want this on my record, so I am trying to avoid a no contest plea.

Do you see any pull in my direction? Any advice?

anon71404
Post 30

I got charged with a minor in possession of alcohol. it wasn't mine and I was going to turn it in to the authorities when they questioned me and charged me. should I plea no contest?

anon69756
Post 29

i took a no contest plea for a dui when i wasn't even drinking and driving. i was beat up at a party and taken to the hospital.

someone at the party told the cops earlier they seen me at a bar. the cops asked me if i had drunk anything that evening when i was at the bar which was about four hours prior to me getting beat up. i was honest and told him yes i really had two drinks at the bar. then with that admission the cop said well you must have been drunk when you drove to the party and wrote me an ticket.

i could not afford my own attorney so i got a public defender who would not answer my calls. call me back or let me see the police report. he told me i could not win and to take the no contest even though i knew i wasn't impaired and their evidence was weak. However, i wanted to get this behind me and i am no attorney.

i was also scared of what would happen if i lost so i took the no contest. big mistake. this was my first dui and i lost a $20.00 pr hour job i had just started because the judge suspended my license for a year and half. maxed my fine to $1200. placed me on probation for a year, made me pay for counseling for alcohol $800, made me take and pay for a driver intervention program $300. Because i lost my job and couldn't pay my bills or rent i went homeless for a while before my family saved me. And i had never been charged with any crime ever before this.

bottom line: never, ever, ever walk into the courts, put your wrist out and ask for mercy. never plead no contest. You will not get it. the law industry is one of the country's most lucrative industries and guess what? They make their money off you.

i will always regret not fighting. even if i would have lost i could have slept with myself knowing i tried at least tried. and if you don't try the case, you never get to tell your side.

anon63767
Post 28

I plead no contest on a AADW family violence charge only because my lawyer told me to. Only problem, i didn't do the crime and the guy who accused me turned around and told some of my family members and my lawyer he lied on me because he was mad at me for breaking his $300 cell phone. Bottom line: my lawyer forgot this and still told me to agree to this.

Now I have three children and cannot get a good paying job anymore. I had no prior arrests of any kind, spent one night in jail a week after having a baby by c-section and totally messed my life up. it's better to plead not guilty and find someone to help you or a pro bono lawyer. Something really funny is a month later when the same guy put a protective order on me saying I beat him up in his apartment but I didn't and still don't know were he lives. just thought I'd share that.

anon61600
Post 27

My friend was sent to death row 17 years ago for a crime he did not commit. The District Attorney was eventually forced to allow leave to appeal. Finally, last September, the Court of Appeals overthrew original case because it was so flawed - evidence withheld, suspicion of false witness, police corruption etc.

So now my friend has two choices. He can either insist on a new trial (and his past experience wouldn't lead him to believe it could be a fair one, especially after 17 years). Or he can accept a plea bargain of No Contest. In his case it does not mean guilty. It means 'I've already lost 17 years of my life. Just let me out of here'.

anon61303
Post 26

It just gives simple-minded people the false sense of security that the fifth amendment protects. I find it amazing that pleading no contest is on a ticket. Only if we fight do we really get treated as possibly innocent.

I would just like to say that the law enforcement agencies of these united states are tax collectors for the state that they reside. That is right another hidden taxation without representation.

anon60610
Post 25

Indecency with a child and you don't think we want to know where the hell you are at all times. C'mon, you're lucky you didn't get killed in prison. Stay away from me.

anon53686
Post 24

I was charged with a crime I never committed, in a state I hadn't lived in for almost a year.

To go to trial would have cost thousands of dollars (only lawyer - not including hotel/childcare/missing work/etc). The only evidence the state had was a statement from the same person claiming to be the victim. The state knew they had no case, but knew I'm a single father with two kids who couldn't afford to fight it.

They offered to drop the felony to a misdemeanor and give me a year of probation in return for a no contest plea. I had two choices: risk a felony and lose my kids while I go to prison, or take a slap on the wrist for a crime I never committed. This plea is not looked upon as anything except expressing "I'm not guilty but it would take too much effort to fight this."

Anyone who thinks no contest is the equivalent to guilty doesn't understand why this plea exists.

anon52390
Post 23

There are cases that need no evidence but by the trained word of another carries a stigma of guilty till proven innocent. Some times it's just better to take a small slap you didn't do than spend your life in jail and still didn't do it.

anon52344
Post 22

I plead no contest 1980 to indecency with a child in Texas for a 14 year sentence. Served my entire time and released from mandatory supervision. There was no registration at the time and I plead no contest to the court's offer. If there was I would not have agreed to plead no contest. Please explain to me how after time served I am under lifetime supervision without it being part of my agreement with the court.

anon51158
Post 21

I think simple. Sometimes those who apply the law don't know what they are doing! They just open the mouse trap and hit the hammer!

anon46803
Post 20

I got a ticket for driving my daughter in a car without securing her. But she was in a seat belt in the back of the car. She just wasn't in a car seat. What should I plead on this ticket?

anon43070
Post 19

#10, stop drinking so much and endangering the lives of others.

anon42112
Post 18

My 48 year old mother pled no contest and was just sentenced to six months in jail for a misdemeanor traffic violation. she is very sick and I don’t want her health in the hands of county jail. She’s going to lose everything? is there anything I can do to appeal or reduce her sentence? Please help us.

anon40289
Post 17

i was charged with an assualt that i called self-defense. i had witnesses to this but yet my attorney told me to plea no contest. i was told that this will not go on my record because i wasn't convicted. is this true?

anon40025
Post 16

my husband was told to plea no contest to a plea bargain he did not commit. He won an appeal on the original charge and was told he should take the deal so he didn't take the chance of being found guilty again of the higher charge. Can he pursue any damages in civil court. He sat 3 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and he is still not treated fairly. we can prove withholding of evidence and he was not given full disclosure. who do we talk to or are we not allowed because of the plea?

anon39962
Post 15

If someone pleads "No contest" to a felony, can they still state that they were "not convicted of a felony" on a job application?

anon36070
Post 14

I got a reckless driving ticket. The officer said I was going 42 in a 15. I know for a fact it is very hard to go that fast in that area. So I know I was speeding. But not that fast. Can I plea No Contest??

anon35935
Post 13

To post #1:

To everyone who doubts the necessity of this plea, it's actually necessary and legitimate for some people. Suppose you are charged with a crime that you did not commit.

For example, suppose you picked up a hitchhiker and were pulled over and the police found crack cocaine on the person you just picked up. You could also be charged with possession yourself. If you were, you would clearly find yourself not guilty, and yet there is certainly enough "evidence" to convict you in a court of law. In that case, you want to plead "no contest"! It means that you do not admit guilt, but that you also feel you cannot defend yourself against the charges. It allows you to plea bargain and avoid a longer sentence, because even though you do not use crack cocaine, you probably would not expect to win a not guilty verdict in a court of law.

Interestingly enough, in this example, most police officers would not charge you with the possession if you explain to them the situation. But it could happen in many states, and in that case no contest is your best friend.

rossi
Post 12

*Child abandonment in the state of ga. how can this be. help!* .guilty or not guilty or no contest. she was born on sept 4 2008 mother file this on oct 4 2008. in her county i live in a deference county. Now we already a case with D H R child support services. To establish child support now i ask for *genetic testing.* My notice came in the mail for a genetic testing Nov 20,2008 Her was Nov 17,2008 The Baby was DEC 08 2008. Now the test came back in the mail DEC 20,2008. Said 99% ok, *I'm cool with that's*.

ok I have another date with D H R Child Support Service to decide how much or go court, I Said let's go to court. Now keep in mind i have not been order anything yet. Now my court date, at Superior Court. FEB 12,2009 where everything went down. Now backup just a tab on FEB 9,2009 I rec: a letter to come court in her county, to report for Child Abandonment, so i go before the Judge before i can say anything they lock me up. Asking me how come i haven't done anything for the baby,like i said *child support is being established.* Now Child Support Established, everything from the court date of FEB 12,2009 *i have paid everything the court had told me to pay. i have a court date on tomorrow for arraignment guilty, not guilty,or no contest.*

anon31407
Post 11

If someone pled no contest without understanding what it meant, can that person have a retrial? They are innocent, can prove it, and even know who did commit the crime. This person had so much taken from them by doing the no contest plea, and I would like to see them get atleast some of it back. They just did not have the money to pay a lawyer and was told to plea no contest like it was the only option for them, but will be paying for it for a very long time.

anon30172
Post 10

I was charged with dui and had my license suspended. A few weeks later I was pulled over and charged with dus. Will it help anything at all for me to plead no contest to this charge?

anon29287
Post 9

You can't take a plea bargain without either pleading guilty or 'no contest'. If you plead guilty, depending on the state and what you're charged with, you often have to go through and explain the details of the crime you are pleading guilty to, which is fine if you're actually guilty, but lots of people take plea bargains for crimes they didn't commit- the unlucky guy who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the unlikeable defendant who just 'seems' guilty to the jury, or the person who takes a plea bargain for a dramatically reduced a sentence rather than take even a small chance of an erroneous conviction.

So, yeah, the world treats 'no contest' the same as it treats 'guilty', but look at some of the death row cases that were reversed when they discovered DNA evidence... Lots of those guys were forced to memorize details of a crime they didn't commit and pretend in court, even swear on the bible, that they did horrible things that they never actually did. No contest pleas allow people in situations like that at least some way to preserve a shred of their dignity.

anon19638
Post 8

Jesus pleaded "no contest." Think about it. He was innocent, yet he did not declare it or did He refute the allegations against Him). Followers of Christ are called to do the same (if put in such a situation).

anon19619
Post 7

No contest simply means that you are not admitting to the guilt, but you are still accepting the punishment as if you were guilty. I would never plead guilty to anything. Always choose no contest over guilty. I have seen traffic violations dropped on a no contest plea, that would have otherwise been fined.

anon18641
Post 6

I was recently convicted of a misdemeanor for possession of a dangerous weapon, I was told by my attorney to plead no contest to escape the 1 year of jail time that the court was charging me, along with 3 years of probation, Some may think that this law is broken but there are some ppl whom really haven't done too much bad things to get treated the same way as say someone who killed someone or raped someone.

anon15900
Post 5

The no contest plea does not keep the court from finding the person guilty. In fact it almost always results in conviction.

clank
Post 4

Hi, There are two options when sealing records. You can either petition to "seal arrest and criminal records" or you can petition to "seal a conviction". The first option requires that all charges be dismissed or acquitted. My question is, where does a no contest plea fall? Is it a criminal record, or is it a conviction? It does not seem to really qualify for either. Thanks

anon14433
Post 3

No Contest must be removed from the United States Court system! It's stupid english and still means guilty to the court!

anon10906
Post 2

Hi, i was charged for assault for which sincerely pled not guilty. I was later convinced by my attorney to plead a no contest and i am at moment awaiting sentencing. Will the sentencing enter my records; and is it a right decision i took since i want this matter to end sooner than later?

anon6717
Post 1

Hello there!

Isn't "no contest plea" a logical impossibility? What do the words refer to; what extension or actions outside the words if the person has not committed the crime but, can not refute the charges? Doesn't "no contest plea" create some sort of "vacuum"?

I would think that if a person can not be proven guilty he/she is released? And not that one complicates matters by creating a strange situation where the person who is charged can in some way be considered guilty because he/she could not refute the charges? Where in reality would a person be if the person in question was caught between "not being able to refute the charges" and "can not be convicted"? This seems impossible, I would think it is the authorities who has to prove the person's guilt, not the person himself?

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