Criminal defense cases cover both criminal suits — charges brought by the government to punish an individual for an act classified as a crime — and civil suits — claims brought by individuals or organizations as a dispute over rights and duties.
We have discussed this topic before; however, lately our office has received multiple emails on the subject so we are going to revisit it. In a criminal case there are typically four options for the defendant when entering their plea to the charges in the information filed by the prosecution: (1) Not Guilty, (2) Guilty, (3) No Contest and (4) Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. The Not Guiltyplea is pretty self explanatory; if you plead not guilty you are saying you did not commit the criminal offenses alleged and that you wish to have your case heard at trial. The Guilty plea is also pretty straight forward. If you plead guilty, you are stating that you are guilty of the offenses charged; that you do not wish to have your case heard by a judge or jury at trial; and that you are ready to receive your punishment. The No Contest or Nolo Contendereplea is where most people get confused. A No Contest plea is treated the same as a Guilty plea for purposes of sentencing. In other words, if you plead No Contest, the judge will treat you as if you have pled Guilty. The only difference is that a No Contest Plea cannot be used against you in a separate proceeding, such as a civil lawsuit based on the same set of facts. You most often see No Contest pleas when there is an issue of restitution in the case, such as damage to property, payment of medical bills, etc. For example, if someone is charged with Willful Reckless Driving, and there was a car accident that resulted from the alleged criminal conduct, the person is not only facing criminal prosecution for the driving offense, but also potential civil liability from the person(s) who was/were harmed (i.e. the person they hit might sue them for money). This is where the individual’s criminal defense lawyer will advise their client to plead No Contest instead of Guilty, if a plea agreement is reached. The reason is that later on if their client is sued by the injured party who was hit during the accident, the injured party will not be able to use the No Contest plea against the individual they are suing for damages.