I do not wish to contend—No Contest Plea

No Contest Plea

State law regulates whether and under what circumstances a person may plead no contest in state criminal trials in the United States. The legal Latin phrase ‘nolo contendere’ means “I do not wish to contend.” It’s also known as a no-contest plea. 

A no-contest plea is considered an alternative to pleading guilty or not guilty in criminal prosecutions, and the defendant neither accepts nor denies a charge. While a no-contest plea is not exactly a guilty plea, it has the same immediate impact as a guilty plea and is frequently made as a plea bargain. 

A no-contest plea is not a common right in many jurisdictions, and its use is subject to numerous constraints.

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permit a nolo contendere plea to be submitted in federal court with the court’s approval; the court must “examine the parties’ perspectives and before accepting the plea, the public’s interest in the orderly administration of justice.”

What do you mean by ‘No Contest Plea’?

When a defendant takes a no-contest plea, he or she admits to the allegations without admitting guilt and without presenting a defense. 

The contemporary no contest plea first appeared in England during Henry IV’s reign in the early 1400s. It was interpreted as an implied confession by the prisoner. When the death penalty was not an option, a prisoner may simply implore the court for mercy instead of contesting his or her guilt or innocence.

Now, the statute specifies the no-contest plea and is available in practically all states. A defendant’s right to enter such a plea is discretion, not an automatic right. As a result, a no-contest plea can only be accepted with the court’s permission, and a judge has the power to accept or reject the plea. In most death penalty cases, a no-contest plea is not permitted.

Before entering a no contest plea, the court must resolve various procedural issues. The trial court will reject a no-contest plea if the court believes that the defendant has not committed the crime for which he is accused. The trial court will reject a no-contest plea if it appears from the circumstances that the defendant did not perform the crime alleged.

A defendant must consciously and freely enter a no-contest plea. A plea is not considered conscious and voluntary unless the defendant is fully aware of the allegations and the legal consequences of no contest pleas.

The court will also enquire whether the defendant has any threats or promises to guarantee that the plea is voluntary. Courts and jurisdictions differ in their adherence to these norms.

Some courts assume that a no-contest plea must be considered unless there is a compelling cause not to, but others require the defendant to follow all legal requirements before accepting the plea rigorously.

Advantages of no contest plea

When the consequences of pleading guilty are too severe, a plea of no contest is preferable.  To avoid the expense and exposure of a trial, a defendant can prefer to enter a no-contest plea.

A no-contest plea also has the advantage of not being used against the accused in a civil suit for the same act.

For example, suppose a driver pleads no contest to a criminal assault allegation against a passenger. The passenger cannot present evidence of that plea in a subsequent civil assault proceeding to discredit the driver’s credibility.

Disadvantages of no contest plea

A no-contest plea has the same legal impact as a conviction when it comes to punishment.

Though a defendant may hope for mercy before sentence to save the court time and money by avoiding a trial or because of a bargain struck with the prosecution, the court retains the entire range of sanctions for the offense.

As a result, a defendant risks getting the same sentence without the chance to present a defense or a jury acquittal.

What are the residual effects of a no-contest plea?

A no-contest plea has the same instant implications as a guilty plea, but it may have distinct long-term ramifications or consequences. So, a conviction obtained by a no-contest plea is subject to the same penalties, fines, and forfeitures as a conviction obtained through a guilty plea in a similar case and can be used as a mitigating factor in subsequent criminal actions.

Unlike in a guilty plea, a defendant in a no-contest plea should not be forced to assign or accept the charges. It means that a no-contest conviction cannot be applied in later civil procedures to demonstrate negligence in itself or to show whether the acts were perpetrated under the facts as it is done in a criminal case.

If offered as an “admission by party-opponent,” no contest pleas may not be used to evade the hearsay restriction under the Federal Rules of Evidence or in states with rules of evidence that are similar or identical to them.

Assuming the charge is of sufficient gravity, and all other factors are equivalent, a guilty plea to the same accusation would have the opposite impact—an opponent at trial might submit the plea as evidence to establish a given fact over a hearsay objection.

What is meant by ‘guilty plea’?

When a defendant enters a guilty plea, he or she admits to the court that the accused committed the offense. 

This plea must be heard in court and become a component of the court record. The accused essentially swears under oath that he or she is knowledgeable of the claimed offense and is guilty of it.

Furthermore, the defendant must show the judge that he or she:

  • is “intentionally and purposefully” entering the plea 
  • realizes that by entering a guilty plea, he or she is giving up some rights.

A judge will usually ask a defendant if he or she knows the following:

  • the nature of the alleged crime (or offenses),
  • entering a guilty plea means the defendant admits to committing the crime(s) charged,
  • the plea’s ramifications (including possible sentencing), and
  • the rights that he or she is giving up as a result of the plea

It’s worth noting that by pleading guilty, a defendant gives up his or her right to: 

  • counsel, 
  • a trial by jury,
  • not to incriminate himself, and
  • confront and interrogate the accuser

The judge usually confirms the plea and thinks it is fair once the defendant recognizes the aforementioned.

Once authorized, the case moves on to the criminal court’s sentence phase. There will be no jury trial.

It’s worth noting that in some circumstances, innocent people plead guilty to crimes to:

  • obtaining a desirable sentence 


  • benefit from being accused of a less severe violation

How is a no-contest plea different from a guilty plea?

The civil court process is the fundamental distinction between a no contest and a guilty plea.

A no-contest plea has the same impact as a guilty plea in most felony cases and can be used as an acknowledgment of guilt in any other judicial process, including civil lawsuits.

The choice of pleading no contest rather than guilty is not always available to defendants. As part of a plea bargain, prosecutors may urge that the defendant plead guilty, and judges do not usually accept no contest pleas.


A criminal defendant’s declaration that they will not contest a charge is a no contest plea.   Although a no contest plea does not explicitly confess guilt, it does relinquish the right to a trial and allows the court to sentence the convicted criminal as if they were guilty.

A no-contest plea does not constitute an acknowledgment of guilt other than the case in which it is entered. As a result, a no-contest plea in a civil matter originating from the same cause of action cannot be used against the defendant.

As a result, when a civil suit is imminent, a defendant has a strong motive to plead no contest since a no contest plea does not prove the facts of the previous case and does not constitute an admission of guilt. 

A defendant who witnesses in a subsequent proceeding may be impeached by their previous conviction, even if obtained through a no-contest plea.


Should a person plead guilty or no contest?

Usually, people plead not guilty or no contest because they don’t want to plead guilty before consulting with a lawyer or attempting to fight the allegations. It is how things usually work out. If you know you’ll be convicted, it’s better to plead guilty.

When you have the option of pleading no contest, why would anyone ever plead guilty?

For two main reasons:
1: A “no contest” plea bargain is likely to be substantially less appealing than a direct guilty plea offer; and
2: The court is not required to accept such a plea and typically opposes them unless it believes it is “in the interests of justice.”

What happens when a person pleads no contest?

The person is presumed guilty for almost all purposes, including sentence and keeping a criminal record.

What is meant by a guilty plea?

A defendant pleading guilty means the defendant admitting the commitment to the offense charged with.