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Criminal Defense

What Does Pleading “No Contest” Mean?

6 min read
Unbundled Legal Help

by Unbundled Legal Help

Pleading no contest means you don’t admit guilt, but you accept the punishment for the crime. Learn more about the consequences of pleading no contest and why you may want to consult a lawyer before making a plea.

The main difference between pleading guilty and pleading no contest has to do with the implications these pleas will have on your future. Sometimes, pleading no contest may avoid having the conviction used against you in future proceedings. It is important to do proper research and consult your lawyer on the ‌consequences of each plea.

If you are arrested for a criminal offense or a misdemeanor, you will ‌respond to the charges filed against you in a process known as a plea hearing. During the hearing, you will have three options to respond to the charges:

  • You can plead guilty, which means you admit you have indeed committed the offense. Here, the process will move on to the sentencing stage without going to trial. 
  • You can plead not guilty, which means you state you haven’t committed the offense and are innocent. If you enter a plea of not guilty, your case will go to trial. During the trial, the prosecutor will need to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • You can also plead “no contest” or “nolo contendere,” which means you accept the conviction but don’t admit guilt. In this case, you will waive your right to a trial and your case will proceed to the sentencing stage.

At first glance, a no contest plea may sound the same as a guilty plea. But not really.

What Is a Guilty Plea?

If you plead guilty in a plea hearing, you admit you have committed the offense you are charged with. 

You will need to voice your plea in court so that it becomes part of the court record. The judge will also make sure you are aware of your rights and the consequences of your actions. This includes the understanding of the following points:

  • You are entering the plea of “knowingly and intelligently”
  • You understand what rights you will give up by entering the guilty plea

To ensure this is true, the judge may ask you the following questions:

  • Do you understand the nature of the crime or crimes that you are being charged with?
  • Do you understand what a guilty plea means?
  • Do you understand the consequences of entering a guilty plea?
  • Do you understand what rights you will forfeit by entering the guilty plea? 

You need to know that by pleading guilty, you will waive your rights to a jury trial, counsel, the right to not incriminate yourself, and the right to cross-examine the accuser. 

Once the judge makes sure you understand and accept all the above, they will typically ‌approve the plea. The case will then proceed to sentencing. They will hold no trial. 

What Is a No Contest Plea?

A no contest plea is indeed similar to a guilty plea. When you plead no contest, you will likely face the same punishment you would if you pleaded guilty. 

If you plead no contest, the judge will also need to make sure you understand the nature of your charges and the consequences of the plea, are entering the no contest plea “knowingly and intelligently,” and understand that you will waive the same rights as with the guilty plea. 

What Is the Difference between Pleading Guilty and Pleading No Contest?

In most cases, both pleas come with the same consequences in sentencing.

But a key difference between a no contest plea and a guilty plea occurs when it comes to civil court proceedings.

If you make a no contest plea in a misdemeanor case, this plea won’t be considered an admission of guilt and used against you in any future lawsuits arising from the same behavior on which your current case is based. So if you are charged later with a similar offense, the prosecutor won’t be able to use your no contest plea as evidence of guilt. 

But in felony cases, a no contest plea bears the same consequences as a guilty plea. This means that they can use it against you in future proceedings. 

It’s important to note that you won’t always have the option of pleading no contest. In some cases, if you make a plea deal, a prosecutor will insist you plead guilty instead of no contest. Additionally, not every judge will accept a no contest plea.

Consult an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney before Making a Plea

Your response to the charges filed against you will have a profound effect on your life. Pleading guilty or no contest means you will receive a sentence for the offense and will have a criminal record for the rest of your life.

Pleading not guilty and going to trial has its own consequences. You may face the highest possible sentence for the offense when you go to trial, and hiring a private attorney to represent you in court will also be a considerable expense.

Therefore, it’s critical you get professional legal consultation on your case before making any life-altering decisions. This means you will need to hire a defense attorney to handle your case.

Criminal defense attorney costs can range from $2,500 to $8,000, depending on the seriousness of your charges and the work involved. On average, a full package of legal services will cost you about $8,000. And if your case gets complicated and your attorney needs to do any additional work, they will probably charge you an extra per hour fee ranging from $300 to $700. As a result, many criminal defense cases fall into the $15,000 to $20,000 price range.

For most people, this is a substantial expense. And you may wonder if there are more economical ways to go about getting legal help. If so, consider using unbundled legal services. 

How To Save Money in Legal Costs with Unbundled Legal Help?

Defense attorney services are expensive because they will need to do many things to prepare for your case. In a typical criminal defense case, a defense attorney will be responsible for case-related research, studying the circumstances of the offense, searching for witnesses, negotiating deals with prosecutors, and more. And they will bill you for all the services provided.

But in certain cases, you may not need (or not yet need) the full set of services offered by a defense attorney. For instance, you may want a second opinion on your case (if they have assigned you a public attorney). You may want a consultation regarding your plea options and their consequences before your plea hearing. If this is the case, consider using unbundled legal services. With unbundled legal services, you can hire an attorney for a specific task and only pay for that service. As a result, you will save thousands of dollars in potential legal fees while still getting the legal help you need.

Using unbundled legal services won’t work in every case. In many situations, especially with a serious criminal offense for which you are facing a prison sentence, you will need full legal representation. This means that hiring a lawyer to represent you full-time and paying for a full set of legal services will be necessary and unavoidable. However, you can still use unbundled legal services. The Unbundled Legal Help network includes many smaller firms and individual lawyers who may ‌take on your case for a more affordable price.

We can connect you today to an unbundled defense attorney in your area to discuss your case.

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