Guilty, Not Guilty, or No Contest? What Happens If You Choose “Nolo Contendere”June 27, 2019
A recent statistical review of reportable motor vehicle crashes in Pennsylvania tells us that 28 alcohol-related traffic accidents, involving 18 reportable injuries, occur every day in the state. Fortunately, state and local governments have focused on improving traffic safety, and as a result, the number of fatalities is decreasing. Law enforcement officers are ever-present on our roadways, and they take the issue of impaired drivers very seriously.
Pleas to DUI Charges: Your Options
When DUI offenders first appear in court, they generally have three options regarding what type of plea to enter, listed below:
- Guilty. This is an admission of the charges. A conviction for DUI is certain and will depend on the particular circumstances surrounding the case, such as blood alcohol level, previous convictions, and the age of the driver.
- Not guilty. Motorists who enter a not guilty plea maintain their innocence, and may feel that the circumstances surrounding their arrest are questionable. These drivers will require the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney to secure the best possible outcome.
- No contest. Also known as a plea of nolo contendere, this option is different than the other two. It means that the offending driver does not want to contest the charge. It is not an admission of guilt, nor is it a protest against the charge.
No Contest Is Often Misunderstood
The Latin phrase nolo contendere translates to, “I do not wish to contend.” It is a commonly used legal term for a no contest plea.
Many people incorrectly assume that this plea means the judge will not find them guilty of the charges and that they will escape the consequences. However, a nolo plea counts on a driver’s record as a prior conviction, and thus will affect any future DUI charges.
In essence, by entering a plea of no contest, the defendant is effectively telling the court that he or she is guilty of driving while under the influence but does not want to make a formal statement of guilt. A no contest plea is never seen as a claim of innocence and is granted at the judge’s discretion.
The Benefits of a No Contest Plea
A no contest plea should only be used if it will help a defendant’s case. One possible advantage to pleading nolo contendere instead of simply pleading guilty is that the words nolo contendere will be entered into your criminal record instead of guilty, which is a big advantage when potential employers conduct background checks in the future.
Choosing no contest over a guilty plea is particularly beneficial if the DUI charge involved an accident with injuries. A plaintiff in a civil suit must prove that the defendant acted negligently before a court will award any financial damages. Plaintiffs can point to a guilty plea as evidence of negligence.
Other benefits accompany a no contest plea, including:
- Avoiding having to pay attorney fees.
- Avoiding the publicity and social stigma associated with a DUI trial.
- Saving time. Getting on a court docket can be time-consuming, and waiting for a trial date is an emotional experience, Many people enter a no contest plea to finalize things as quickly as possible.
A No Contest Plea Means Losing Rights
Once a defendant enters a plea of no contest to a DUI charge, he or she loses certain rights, including:
- The right to a trial with legal representation
- The ability to have an attorney review the state’s evidence
- The right to call witnesses
- The right to testify
- The right to make the state prove accusations beyond a reasonable doubt
Choose the Right Plea and Choose the Right Course of Action
DUI is a criminal offense. A conviction for DUI in Pennsylvania is serious and can have life-long and life-changing consequences, including the following:
- From five days to five years in jail
- Fines ranging from $300 to $10,000
- A driver’s license suspension for at least one year and up to eighteen months
- Having to attend highway safety school
- Mandatory participation in an alcohol and drug treatment program
- Ignition interlock system for one year
Additionally, a DUI conviction means having a permanent criminal record, a lifetime of increased car insurance premiums, and the possibility of a loss of employment. The best way to find out how best to deal with a DUI charge is to have a determined, aggressive, and experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Attorney Brian Zeiger is an experienced DUI lawyer who knows the ins and outs of the local legal community. Before entering any plea, and before making any decisions about your future, call the Zeiger Firm at (215) 546-0340 to arrange a consultation and to discuss the details of your case.
At the Zeiger Firm, we understand that the majority of individuals charged with DUI in Pennsylvania are reputable and responsible members of the community who made one mistake.
Facing a DUI charge is not easy. You can’t just pretend it did not happen or wish it away. However, the legal team at the Zeiger Firm can make it easier. Our experienced attorneys can help you and your family understand all of the legal options available to you. The pros and cons of opting to plead no contest illustrate the importance of having a qualified DUI lawyer who can make the best decision based on a specific DUI charge, and the unique circumstances surrounding the arrest.
The American Bar Association requires that a defense counsel act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing any client. At the Zeiger Firm, we believe that there is no level of due diligence that is too extreme for our clients. We always seek out avenues for negotiation and any other available options. Retaining an attorney from the beginning of your case can have significant advantages. Your attorney will:
- Identify your defenses
- Explain your options
- Retain expert witnesses, if necessary
- Determine the best possible strategy for your specific situation
Contact Us if You Are Considering a No Contest Plea
If you or someone in your family is facing a DUI charge in Philadelphia or Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, or Chester Counties, or anywhere else in the state, call our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys at (215) 546-0340, or contact us online.