Understanding the "No Contest" plea in Cleveland, Ohio Courts
If you are currently involved in a court case, then you might be tempted to plea "No Contest."
Before you enter such a plea, understand that it may not mean what you think it means. Derived from the Latin phrase “nolo contendere,” which translates to “I do not wish to contend,” the appeal is often used in court cases relating to many scenarios.
So what is a no-contest plea in Cleveland, Ohio, and what does it mean for your court case?
What is a plea?
A plea is a person’s formal response to a criminal or traffic charge. A person charged with a criminal or traffic offense is called the defendant. The defendant can choose from the pleas of guilty, not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity, or no-contest. Entering a plea refers to the judge’s act of formally noting a defendant’s plea, or “entering” it, in the court’s official file. If you enter a no-contest plea, it means that, while you do not admit your guilt, you do admit the truth of the facts alleged in the indictment, information or complaint (the so-called “charging” documents that start a criminal or traffic case). No-contest pleas are sometimes known as “nolo contendere” or just “nolo” pleas.
So what’s the difference between pleading guilty and pleading no contest?
Good question. Sometimes there’s no difference whatsoever and sometimes there’s a big difference. If you plead guilty, you are admitting to the facts and the legal consequences of those facts. The benefit of a no-contest plea (when you admit the facts, but not your guilt) is that it allows you to avoid a trial if your defense has become hopeless, but it prevents the plea from being used against you in any later civil or criminal proceeding. It also allows you the opportunity to appeal rulings by the court, such as rulings allowing certain evidence to be used by the government. Is pleading no-contest to a felony in Cleveland, Ohio the same as pleading no contest to a misdemeanor?
Not exactly. When a defendant enters a no-contest plea in a misdemeanor case, the prosecutor must explain the circumstances of the offense to the judge or magistrate. Based on that explanation, the judge or magistrate must find the defendant guilty or not guilty. As a practical matter, a no contest plea will almost always result in a “guilty” finding. This extra explanation by the prosecutor is not required in felony cases. Do I always have the option of pleading no contest?
Generally, you have a choice between pleading guilty and no contest. If you are offered a plea bargain, however, the prosecutor may insist that you plead guilty rather than no contest. In exchange for your change of plea, the prosecutor would recommend a reduced charge or penalty.
If I plead no contest and give the judge a really good excuse, might the judge let me off?
The only way the judge would find you not guilty on your no-contest plea is if there is a mistake in the “charging” document (if, for example, it leaves out a critical part of the charge) or because the prosecutor’s recitation of facts (where required) doesn’t match up to the facts stated in the charging document. This is rare. How do I figure out if I should plead no-contest?
Taking a no-contest plea depends upon your judgment. While your criminal defense attorney can only advise you, the ultimate decision lies on your shoulders.
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