What is a “no contest” plea?

Most criminal defendants in North Carolina assume they will only be allowed to plead guilty or take a case to trial by pleading not guilty in the initial hearing. The truth is that there is also an option of not pleading guilty while not contesting the government charges. Also known as nolo contendere, this can be used effectively for some defendants even when the court will not necessarily want to accept the plea. Judges actually often take opposition to this plea, explaining to the defendant that it does not carry a positive impact on the criminal outcome. However, some defendants may still want to use the option regardless.

Lack of intent

One reason a defendant may want to plead no contest to a criminal charge is a lack of intent to commit a crime. Individuals can be technically guilty with no reasonable defense to the charge while having no intent to violate any particular code. A nolo contendere plea is effectively an admission that the prosecution has the evidence indicating guilt and the defendant has no response while still claiming innocence.

Avoiding civil liability

There are actually situations where pleading no contest can be effective. These cases typically involve civil liability as well as criminal culpability. The burden of proof standard for evaluating civil cases is a preponderance of the evidence instead of the criminal law reasonable doubt standard, and a guilty plea could be an advantage to any opposing party in a civil claim.

It is important to remember that some states do not allow for a no contest or Alford plea. North Carolina is not among those states, so criminal defendants within the state have more options than others when they go to court.