criminal chargeThere are a number of ways to respond to a criminal charge in Maryland, including “not guilty,” “guilty,” and “no contest,” also known as nolo contendere.

When you haven’t committed a crime, choosing the “not guilty” plea can be the simplest of options. It means that you are telling the court you did not do anything wrong and are forcing the prosecution to prove that you did. Choosing between a “guilty” or a “no contest” plea, however, it can be confusing, especially when you are facing substantial penalties.

What is the difference between guilty and no contest?

When you plead guilty to a criminal case, you are telling the court you committed the crime in question. This becomes a part of your court and criminal record. It also means you understand the crimes you are being charged with and accept the outcome of those charges.

To plead guilty, you must:

  • Prove that you entered this plea knowingly and intelligently
  • Show that you understand you are giving up some of your rights by entering this plea (such as a trial)
  • State that you understand the nature of the criminal charge you are facing
  • State that you acknowledge that you committed this crime
  • State that you recognize the consequences of this plea, as demonstrated to you
  • Waive any other rights you have

By contrast, if you enter a no contest plea, you are not entering a plea of guilty or not guilty. It does not mean you admit to or deny committing the crime. Instead, it informs the court that you will not challenge the prosecution’s efforts and that you acknowledge the evidence against you

In Maryland, the no contest plea, sometimes called a nolo contendere plea, is not always available. The judge in a case must approve that you can enter this type of plea. If it is accepted, the court will then determine the sentencing you should face.

If you plead no contest, the judge will still provide you with questions to make sure you understand what is occurring, including that:

  • You understand the nature of the plea
  • You understand the consequences that come with this plea
  • You understand that you are taking the same type of punishment that is likely to be given under a guilty plea
  • You enter this plea voluntarily and have not been coerced into doing so

It is important to understand that saying “no contest” is not the same as saying “not guilty.” The fact is, “no contest” is neither an admission or a denial of guilt. It is a statement, “I know you know I did this, and I cannot prove I did not do so… so give me the punishment required.” A no contest plea may also be used in a plea bargain.

What type of impact does a no contest plea provide?

What happens after taking a “no contest” plea is dependent on the type of crime with which you are charged. Typically, if you are entering a no contest plea for a traffic infraction, you are not likely to see anything added to your criminal record. This means it will not impact your insurance rates (and your costs are not likely to go up).

But what about DUI charges? You can plead no contest for that, too; in fact, if we’re going for a Probation Before Judgment, you have to plead no contest. And doing so can help you keep your license, your job, your CDL, your security clearance, and a whole lot more.

However, if, for whatever reason, you are charged with the same crime again, then the judge may not allow a no contest plea to be entered. That means you will face a guilty or not guilty plea decision. There are a few other drawbacks, too. I do not encourage you to file a no contest plea unless you talk to me first. Only a qualified attorney like me should help you make this decision, ensuring you understand all the pros and cons behind it.

Is it always best to state you are not guilty?

When you enter a not guilty plea, you are telling the court you did not perpetrate the crime in question. You then shift the process to the prosecution – they have to prove that you did it. The burden of proof can be significant. It makes sense, then, to plead not guilty if you really did not do it, and when there is little or no evidence to prove that you did.

However, if the evidence is stacked against you, it may be beneficial to plead guilty or no contest if you can work out a plea agreement with the court. This really comes down to what occurred and what the court wants to do with your case, as every case is different.

Hiring an Annapolis criminal defense attorney is critical before you make any decision like this. You certainly want to make sure you exhaust all options before moving forward with any kind of plea. That is why at Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, we do everything possible to ensure you have a clear understanding of how not guilty and no contest pleas work. Call me in Annapolis or Ellicott City, or submit my contact form to schedule an appointment today.

And remember – Keep Calm, and Call Drew.