Posted on 3/6/17

Many criminal cases end in a plea deal, wherein the defendant and prosecutor reach an agreement: The defendant will admit some guilt in exchange for a lighter sentence. This is beneficial to the defendant because he or she can get a more manageable punishment for the crime and will spend less money on legal fees. It is beneficial for the prosecution because it allows them to dispose of the case and focus on other things. While public advocacy groups may disapprove of plea deals because they feel that the defendant is not getting a proper punishment for the crime, pleas are still common.

Often during plea deals, a defendant can plead “nolo contendere,” which is Latin for “I do not wish to contend” or “no contest.” Similarly, a defendant accused of a crime may plead nolo contendere in Texas and, in many cases, a judge is authorized to accept such a plea. Semantically, a guilty plea and a nolo contendere plea are different. Guilty is an admission of guilt; nolo contendere is not admitting guilt, just a gesture that the defendant will not fight the charge. Nolo contendere may make a person feel good that he or she did not admit guilt. Substantively, however, there is no difference. A judge is authorized to rule against a defendant and allocate the same punishment regardless whether the plea is guilty or nolo contendere.  

Nolo Contendere Substantively Different in Civil Trials

If there is a related civil trial, then a plea of nolo contendere versus guilty can be substantively different. For instance, two men who are big college football fans go to a Texas v. Texas A & M football game on a Saturday afternoon in October. Each man is a fan of the opposite team. They both drink a little and start shouting at each other that the other team does not have what it takes. One fan becomes incensed, approaches the other menacingly, and punches him in the face. The punch causes the injured man significant pain. Security comes and calls the police. An ambulance comes and takes the injured man to the hospital. The police arrive and arrest the man for assault.

When the case comes before the prosecutor, the prosecutor charges the arrested man with criminal assault. Concurrently, the injured man hires a personal injury lawyer who files suit against the arrested man, claiming tortious assault.

If the arrested man pleads guilty to the criminal charge, the personal injury lawyer can use that plea as an admission of guilt for the civil trial. On the other hand, if the arrested man pleads nolo contendere to the criminal charge and his plea is accepted, then he can mete out the punishment without admitting guilt in the civil case.

If you have been arrested and are accused of a crime, do not fight the system alone. Contact a lawyer who has the experience and sophistication to defend your case. You have rights; Christopher Abel, a board-certified criminal defense attorney, will protect those rights.

(image courtesy of Abigail Keenan) 

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