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Nolo contendere

From Academic Kids

In law, a plea of "nolo contendere" means that the defendant does not admit the charge, but does not dispute it either. This is also called a plea of no contest or, more informally, a "nolo" plea. "Nolo contendere" is Latin and literally means "I do not wish to argue." In putting in such a plea, defendants agree that the court may find them guilty criminally without ever admitting to the act(s) they are charged with.

Defendants could do this for a variety of reasons:

  • The issue may, for example, be a complex criminal one and defendants may thus not be certain whether in doing what they did, they have in fact committed the crime they are charged with. The defendants thus fully leave it for the court to determine whether they have committed the crime in question and signal that they may accept the decision of the court for themselves. (This of course requires the defendants to have and maintain full faith in the court.)
  • A no contest plea can be entered by criminal defendants facing a realistic prospect of conviction, who do not wish to undergo a trial, and yet are not willing to admit to the offense charged. However, in the United States, the Alford plea is an alternative plea that can be made in this situation.
  • Specifically, defendants may wish to avoid admitting to a tort or any other type of wrongdoing alleged in the indictment or information against them with a view to possible later civil action.
  • Another advantage can be in saving on legal costs. This typically is a consideration when those costs exceed any possible penalties that may be levied on a guilty party.

Recently a nolo plea seems to have moved increasingly into the direction of a guilty plea, almost barring its use for the first reason given above: Both in court room practice and especially in terms of outside media coverage, the possibility of pleading no contest for such (quite upstanding) reasons apparently is rarely ever considered in most places and cases.

Generally, defendants pleading nolo contendere will be found guilty of the offense by the court, as there rarely is (or can be, even) an effective defense without contesting the charge at hand. Furthermore, a nolo plea generally has the same effect as a plea or verdict of guilty for purposes of sentencing, and, depending upon the jurisdiction, may have the same effect as a conviction for the purposes of civil disabilities (such as loss of a driver's license or the right to own a firearm) or use as an aggravating factor if the defendants are later convicted of another offense.

Defendants will not, however, be made to allocute to the charges. Also, this plea (unlike a guilty plea) may not be used against them to establish negligence per se, malice, or even that they actually did the acts which resulted in the conviction, in later civil proceedings related to the same set of facts as the criminal prosecution. It is not an admission of guilt, and provides one major advantage to defendants: It may not be used later as the basis for civil proceedings seeking monetary or other damages against defendants, as can a guilty plea.

In some jurisdictions, such as the U.S. state of Texas, the right to appeal the results of a plea bargain taken from a plea of nolo contendere is highly restricted. In Texas, defendants who have entered a plea of nolo contendere may only appeal the judgment of the court if the appeal is based on written pretrial motions ruled upon by the court or with the trial judge's permission.

Some critics have spoken out against the nolo contendere and Alford pleas on the moral grounds that they undermine public confidence in the accuracy and fairness of the criminal justice system, sending some people to jail who are unrepentant or innocent; and that they dodge the "morality play" aspect of a criminal trial, in which upright civilization is vindicated and the community sees that the guilty are punished.

References

  • [1] (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/plea/four/nolo.html) - Harmonizing Substantive Criminal Law Values and Criminal Procedure: The Case of Alford and Nolo Contendere Pleas, originally published in the Cornell Law Review, Volume 88, Number 6, July 2003
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