Pros and cons of a no contest plea

A Wisconsin criminal defense attorney explains the pros and cons of a no contest plea.

Sometimes criminal cases in Wisconsin conclude with a guilty or a no contest plea.  This is generally after the defendant decides he’s not interested in proceeding to trial, but instead wants to resolve the case.  Sometimes this is because the defendant is guilty.  Other times, it’s simply because he’s looking to accept responsibility and get the case over with.  Considering the fact that the defendant is looking to resolve the case, obviously he can’t enter a “not guilty” plea at this point.  Instead, he will enter either a guilty or a no contest plea, which concludes the case.

Nolo contendere is a legal term that comes from the Latin phrase “I do not wish to contend.”  Sometimes you’ll hear courts, prosecutors, and defense attorneys use this term instead of no contest.  They mean the same thing and serve the same purpose.  In this blog post, we’ll describe the pros and cons of entering a no contest plea in criminal court in Wisconsin.

If you’re considering a plea, it’s important to have an strong defense attorney assisting with the process.  Plea negotiations are not the same for all cases, and it’s important that the government understands numerous pieces of information.  Failure to provide that information may result in a harsher recommendation from the government.  Van Severen Law Office, S.C. is a criminal defense law firm focused on defending individuals in the same position you’re in.  Contact us at (414) 270-0202 for a free consultation regarding your criminal or drunk driving charges.

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What are the advantages of pleading no contest?

If there weren’t benefits to pleading no contest, no one would do it.  It’s important to remember that this plea is different than a guilty plea, even if you’re still found guilty after entering it.  Potential advantages include:

  • Firstly, you avoid the possibility of a long, stressful, trial.  Trial isn’t fun for the defendant.  The government spends hours, days, and sometimes weeks trying to prove that you committed a crime.  Trials are public.  Sometimes media and family are present for the entire process.  Some prosecutors may seek to embarrass you by exposing irrelevant, sensitive information to the jury.  Plus, criminal defense attorneys typically charge additional fees to go to trial.  This procedure takes a lot of additional time, and therefore usually money, to prepare for.
  • Secondly, a no contest plea could reduce your sentence.  Sometimes pleas involve reduced charges and a guarantee that prosecutors will request a lenient sentence.  These negotiations do not happen after a trial loss.  A loss at trial allows the government to request whatever sentence they feel is appropriate, up to the statutory maximum.  And while completely unconstitutional, courts sometimes apply a “trial penalty” to defendants who do not “accept responsibility” by proceeding to trial.  Achieving a light sentence becomes difficult after losing at trial.
  • Thirdly, the defendant avoids a public admission of guilt.  The court finds the defendant guilty of the charge, but the defendant does not admit guilt.  A no contest plea could increase the chances that the defendant’s reputation throughout the community remains unharmed.  While this may be beneficial in certain circumstances, it could also result in a higher sentence from the court (see next paragraph).

What are the disadvantages of pleading no contest?

There are also disadvantages to pleading no contest:

  • Firstly, the defendant avoids public admission of guilt.  But isn’t this a good thing?  This factor can cut both ways.  Sometimes judges are wary of defendants entering no contest pleas.  They want defendants to admit guilt and see a guilty plea as the only true way to show remorse.  A judge may find lack of remorse aggravating, and impose a more significant penalty on the defendant.
  • Secondly, the case is closed and there’s no chance to win.  You cannot continue fighting the case after a no contest plea.  It is finished.  You do not have the opportunity to argue your case and be found not guilty.  If you are truly not guilty of the charges you’re facing, a no contest plea may not be the best route to proceed.  It is important to recognize that a no contest plea will result in you being found guilty of a crime and punished.
  • Thirdly, appellate rights are impacted.  Once you enter a no contest (or even a guilty) plea, one of the rights you waive is your ability to appeal certain aspects of your case.  This means that you give up your right to challenge things like an illegal police search or seizure, or any other improper or unconstitutional conduct by the government or court.
  • Fourthly, you still suffer consequences associated with a guilty plea.  Both a guilty plea and a no contest plea result the court finding you guilty.  Being found guilty of a crime could lead to difficulty with things such as finding a job, proceeding with higher education, obtaining certain professional licenses, and being approved to live in certain apartments.

Is a plea appropriate?

This question is broader than whether a no contest plea is appropriate.  It covers both guilty and no contest pleas.  Is entering a plea truly appropriate in your circumstance?  Consider the following:

  • Can the government even prove a case against me?  The government must prove each element of a criminal charge against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.  If they cannot do that, the court cannot find the defendant guilty of a criminal charge.
  • Am I innocent?  If the defendant is innocent of the charges he’s alleged to have committed, what is the benefit to entering a plea?  Simply getting the case over?  While ending the case early might sound appealing, does living your entire life with a criminal record for a crime you did not commit sound as appealing?  If you’re not comfortable with your attorney, consider hiring a different one.  But entering a plea, when you’re truly innocent, is a concerning suggestion.
  • What impact will this have on my life?  Your no contest plea will impact the rest of your life.  You will have a criminal conviction on your record and may need to explain it in various scenarios in your future.  This includes jobs, education, potential spouses, and even friends.  Consider how being found guilty of a crime will impact the rest of your life.
A gavel used during a no contest plea hearing.
Pleading no contest has pros and cons. Our criminal defense attorneys discuss both in this blog post. Contact us at (414) 270-0202 if you’re seeking a criminal defense attorney for representation.

Do I need a criminal defense attorney to represent me?

Facing a criminal prosecution is not fun.  You’ll be faced with many questions.  Do I proceed to trial?  Do I enter a plea?  Should I ask my criminal defense lawyer about a no contest plea?

No contest pleas come with numerous possibilities. Some of those possibilities could hurt you.  Others can help.  Deciding whether to enter a no contest plea is a decision that should be made with the help of someone experienced working in this area.

Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. at (414) 270-0202 to be connected with one of Wisconsin’s best criminal defense law firms.  We’ve represented thousands of individuals facing difficult criminal situations just like yours.

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