A nolo contendere plea is something that is very similar to a guilty plea, but with one crucial difference: You're not admitting to any wrongdoing. That nuance is extremely important because it can protect people accused of certain crimes from exposing themselves to liability in a subsequent personal injury lawsuit.
Three Types of Pleas in Pennsylvania
Contrary to popular belief, there's an option other than pleading guilty or pleading not guilty at an arraignment. You can also plead nolo contendere, or “no contest.”
As the English translation of the Latin idiom suggests, pleading no contest to a criminal charge means that you do not intend to fight the allegations. Instead, you'll just let the court issue the sentence it would, had you been proven guilty.
Pleading No Contest Has the Same Effect as Pleading Guilty
For the most part, this makes a nolo contendere plea the same as a guilty plea. Rather than fighting against the prosecutor's case, you are choosing to skip the trial, go right to sentencing, and accept the punishment that the court hands down.
However, unlike with a plea of guilty, you are not admitting that you did anything wrong. Instead, you are simply saying that you won't fight against the charges.
By Not Admitting Guilt, You Can Protect Yourself Against a Later Civil Case
The admission of guilt that comes with a guilty plea or a jury's verdict against you can be used as evidence if the victim files a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for their losses.
This is especially common in cases involving driving under the influence, or DUI.
In lots of DUI cases, the person who was hurt or killed by a drunk driver will consider filing a lawsuit and demanding compensation for their medical bills, pain, and suffering. A good strategy on their part is to wait until the DUI case against the allegedly drunk driver is over and done with.
If you plead guilty to a DUI charge, the victim can use that guilty plea as evidence that you were under the influence, which means you were driving negligently and caused their injuries and entitles them to compensation.
By pleading no contest to a DUI rather than guilty, you can keep them from using the guilty plea as evidence that you hurt them.
A Downside: Judges Can See Guilty Pleas as Expressions of Regret
Pleading no contest to a criminal charge is not without drawbacks, though. Judges who sentence defendants often see a guilty plea as an act of contrition and regret. When you plead no contest, instead, judges might see it as a self-serving decision and may not be more lenient with their sentence.
Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who legally represents the accused in Philadelphia, including those who have been accused of DUI. With his advice and representation, he can help you decide the appropriate response to a DUI charge.
Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.