I am in court around the Greater Columbus area every day and have the opportunity to see many people come to court for their traffic or criminal matter without an attorney. In many of those cases, the defendant goes in front of the judge and pleads “no contest.” And, inevitably, they are then found guilty by the judge almost immediately thereafter.
It seems there is a fundamental misunderstanding among many people about what a “no contest” plea means. Many believe that “no contest” is kind of like pleading “not guilty.” It’s not.
WHAT AM I ADMITTING TO IF I PLEAD “NO CONTEST”?
Under Ohio law, if you plead “no contest”, then you are admitting that all of the facts alleged in the complaint are true. In other words, if you have been charged with speeding and your ticket says you were going 85 mpg in a 65 mph zone, then a “no contest” plea means that you are admitting you were in fact going 85 mph.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IF I PLEAD NO CONTEST?
If you plead “no contest” in a misdemeanor case, then the judge will read all of the facts that the officer wrote in the complaint and will assume everything he says is true. The judge may or may not ask you for an explanation. Then the judge will make a finding, and will almost always find you guilty.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PLEADING GUILTY AND PLEADING NO CONTEST?
In most cases, there is no difference. Only in limited cases does a “no contest” plea matter. For example, if you plead guilty, then that guilty plea can be used as an admission in later civil or criminal cases. However, if you plead “no contest”, then your admissions can’t be used against you in later civil and criminal cases.
As an example, let’s say you were in a car accident. You were texting and you ran into the car in front of you. The officer charged you with “failure to control” or with texting while driving. If you plead guilty or just pay the ticket (which is the same as pleading guilty), that guilty plea can be used against you if the person you hit sues you in small claims court. If you plead “no contest”, that admission cannot be used against you in the civil case against you.
If you are in this situation, talk to a local attorney who can advise you based on the specific facts of your case.
I HAVE BEEN OFFERED A PLEA BARGAIN, CAN I STILL PLEAD NO CONTEST?
It depends. If the prosecutor has offered to reduce your charges as part of a plea bargain, he or she may require as part of the deal that you plead guilty to the reduced offense. Even so, a guilty plea to a reduced charge is in many cases better than a no contest plea to a more serious charge.
So what to do? If you are facing a traffic and criminal charge, don’t just go in and plead no contest. Weigh your options and if possible speak with an attorney about the facts of your case and your best course of action.
If you have questions about your specific case or are interested in possibly having an attorney help with your criminal or traffic charge, our attorneys offer free consultations and can be reached at (614) 361-2804.