You know they’ve got something on you. In fact, you feel certain that in this case, the word “guilty” appears in big red letters right across your forehead. Now, the judge is asking how you plead. What are you going to say?
Contrary to what you may have seen on TV, the majority of criminal cases never see the inside of a courtroom. Instead, the defendant goes the plea-bargain route, pleading guilty to a lesser crime to sidestep prosecution and thereby receive a lighter sentence. The plea bargain particularly suits the defendant who feels certain of losing a court case and wants above all else to avoid the chance of receiving a harsher punishment.
However, the guilty plea, whether or not you have bargained it down, is not the only means of settling a case. Another option, that of nolo contendere, will also save you from going to trial. It’s Latin for no contest, and it’s one way of admitting involvement without actually coming out and saying you’re guilty.
That is, if the judge will allow it.
When the No Contest Plea Need Not Apply
In Las Vegas as in most United States cities, the defendant in a criminal case almost always has the option of pleading no contest. However, this is rarely an alternative for anyone facing the death penalty, nor is it a possibility in any case where the evidence points overwhelmingly to a person’s innocence.
Furthermore, no defendant has the right to plead no contest without the court’s permission. In deciding whether or not to allow it, the judge will consider the viewpoints of all parties to the case as well as the degree of public interest in having it handled effectively.
The judge will also want to ensure that the defendant who pleads no contest is doing so voluntarily with a full awareness of the legal consequences. If there is any hint of coercion or inability to understand the charges and the inescapable outcome, the judge will not allow a plea of no contest.
What Pleading No Contest Will Mean to You
The no-contest plea is not a panacea. It will not get you off the hook, nor will it allow you to bargain your sentence down. It is just a way of admitting to the inescapable weight of the evidence against you without actually coming out and saying you’re guilty. Once you have pleaded in this way, you will still face conviction on the original charges and receive the proportionate punishment. The fact that you haven’t admitted guilt will matter not one iota.
Nevertheless, the no contest plea does offer some advantages. For one thing, the fact that you have not entered a guilty plea will stand in your favor at a later date if a victim of your crime should contemplate bringing a civil action against you. Despite the specifics of the case, the fact that you never pleaded guilty means that no one can use an admission of guilt as evidence against you.
A plea of no contest has other benefits, not the least of which includes its ability to let you bypass a costly and publicity-generating trial. When you expedite the legal process in this way, the judge may show his gratitude by reducing the charges against you and lowering the subsequent sentence.
The choice, however, is not all roses.
Despite the fact that pleading no contest is not the same as admitting guilt, it does not stop a stricter judge from subjecting you to the maximum penalties. Moreover, the crime and its punishments will appear as a conviction on your criminal record, and if the courts should find you guilty of committing a similar crime in the future, that no-contest plea will stand as an aggravating factor when it comes to determining the severity of your punishment.
The Need for a Factual Basis
Although judges in the vast majority of courts cannot accept a guilty plea without first confirming that sufficient evidence exists to support it, the same rules do not uniformly apply to accepting a plea of no contest. While some jurisdictions do require the judge to determine a factual basis for the no-contest plea, others have little or no interest in investigating whether or not the defendant might truly be innocent.
The decision to plead no contest is one that should never be made without the advice of a qualified defense attorney. If you have any questions concerning an appropriate plea in a criminal case, please contact Weiner Law Group at 702-202-0500. Our lawyers will help you arrive at the right determination.