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If you have been charged with a crime in Pennsylvania and the evidence against you is strong you may wonder if you have any choice but to plead guilty. Pennsylvania criminal law allows for a nolo contendere plea in some cases. Find out what it is, why you might use it, and what will happen if you do.
The phrase nolo contendere is Latin for “I do not want to contest.” It is also sometimes called a “no contest plea.” When you plead nolo contendere you are essentially saying that you aren’t going to challenge the charges put forward by the prosecutor. You waive your right to a trial and to raise legal defenses, and skip straight to sentencing based on the charges presented.
On even rarer occasions, sometimes Pennsylvania courts will allow you to enter an “Alford plea” (named after a U.S. Supreme Court case, North Carolina v Alford). In those cases, you can maintain your innocence but still acknowledge that the prosecutor has enough evidence to convict you.
Nolo contendere pleas are rare. In most cases, you will either plead guilty to the charges against you in exchange for a plea deal, or take the case to trial. A trial forces the prosecutor to lay out the evidence against you, and gives you and your defense attorney a chance to show where their evidence is thin, and raise any defenses you might have. However, sometimes a no contest plea offers a third option.
Both nolo contendere pleas and Alford pleas are options available to resolve the case without the time and expense of trial. Often prosecutors will offer a plea deal that will result in a less severe sentence than if you were to go through trial in exchange for a quick resolution of the case. At Berman law, our criminal defense attorneys can identify when entering a nolo contendere plea will strike the right balance between protecting your rights and allowing you to take advantage of a plea deal.
Most often, when a nolo contendere plea is entered it is because your admission of guilt could be used against you in a later civil case. For example, imagine you were involved in a drunk driving car accident. You were charged with driving under the influence (DUI). While that case was pending, the person you hit filed a civil lawsuit against you for injuries they suffered in the crash. If you pleaded guilty to drunk driving, it would mean that the plaintiff in the civil case wouldn’t have to prove you were intoxicated. That prior admission would do the job for them.
By entering a nolo contendere plea instead, you can resolve your criminal case without making the civil lawsuit easier on the plaintiff. At Berman Law, if there is a pending civil lawsuit connected to an alleged crime, our criminal defense team will make sure you understand all the potential consequences of a guilty plea, even those outside the criminal courts.
In even rarer circumstances, you may have to enter a no contest plea if you can’t remember important parts of the incident. Any time the criminal court accepts a guilty plea, the judge will ask you questions about the basic facts of what happened in the case to establish a factual basis for the plea. But if you have a medical condition, were injured in the incident, or were too intoxicated, you may not have a clear memory of the event. Without that factual basis, the judge can’t enter a guilty plea, and you could miss out on the benefits of resolving your case.
The solution is to have the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Berman Law advocate that you should be allowed to plead nolo contendere instead. This will allow the plea agreement to be entered, even if you are hazy on the details of what happened.
If you and your criminal defense lawyer decide that a nolo contendere plea is the right choice in your case, the judge will explain to you that you have a right to a trial and a right to put up a defense. If the judge is convinced that you understand your rights and want to go ahead with the plea, then a nolo contendere plea will be entered and you will be sentenced based on the prosecutor’s charges and the allegations in the police report. If your criminal defense attorney has negotiated a favorable sentence in exchange for your plea, that will be applied just as if you had pleaded guilty.
Some people believe they can plead no contest to keep a clean criminal record. This is false. In Pennsylvania, a nolo contendere plea results in a conviction and goes on your record. If a future prosecutor, employer, or civil lawyer looks at your criminal history, they will be able to see that a nolo plea was entered and what the sentence was in the case.
Once the plea has been entered there is very little difference between a guilty plea and a nolo contendere plea. However, in the rare case of a civil lawsuit or a gap in your memory, your lawyer might recommend a no contest plea as a valid third option to protect your interests and resolve your case.
At Berman & Associates, our experienced Delaware County DUI defense attorneys know that sometimes there are consequences beyond your sentence that need to be considered before entering a plea. We will help you consider your options along with all their consequences, in court and out, so you can make an informed decision about whether to go to trial or plead guilty, or ask for a nolo contendere plea. If you are in Delaware County, Media, Pennsylvania, or the surrounding areas, we welcome you to contact us to speak with us about how we can help with your criminal case.
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