Whether it’s a traffic ticket, Driving Under the Influence (DUI), or or a more serious crime, Florida criminal defendants have options when it comes to their choice of plea.
Your Choice of Plea in a Florida Criminal Case
Guilty, Not-Guilty-by-Reason-of-Insanity, and Not Guilty are straight-forward and need little explanation when it comes to their basic meaning. But a plea of No Contest, or Nolo Contendre, is less clear and requires some clarification.
Pleading No Contest means that a criminal defendant accepts as true and does not contest the facts contained in the criminal Complaint. However, by entering a plea of No Contest, the defendant does not admit guilt.
A No Contest plea is often used if your Florida criminal defense attorney has negotiated a plea bargain and, in exchange for not fighting the charge, you have agreed to accept the sentence recommended by the prosecutor. Sometimes, however, the prosecutor will require that you enter a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced charge.
While pleading No Contest is not the same as a Guilty plea, once you admit that the facts alleged in the criminal Complaint are true, you will almost always be found Guilty.
What’s the difference between pleading Guilty and pleading No Contest?
Often there is little functional difference between a plea of Guilty and a plea of No Contest. By pleading Guilty, you admit the facts contained in the criminal complaint, as well as the legal consequences of those facts. By pleading No Contest, you admit the facts, but not that you are Guilty. The benefit of a No Contest plea is that your admission that the facts of the criminal case are true cannot be used against you in any later civil or criminal proceedings.
For example, suppose you were intoxicated and caused a rear end motor vehicle accident. You received a traffic ticket for Failure to Observe an Assured Clear Distance Ahead and were also charged with a DUI. If you plead Guilty in the criminal case, you have admitted both the operative facts (i.e. that you were intoxicated and rear-ended another driver), as well as your legal guilt. If you are later sued in a civil lawsuit for money, your admission of Guilt in the criminal case can be used to establish liability and civil recklessness in the civil case.
In the same scenario, by entering a plea of No Contest you will almost certainly be found Guilty in the criminal case. However, the No Contest plea cannot be used to as an admission of your level of intoxication or liability in the lawsuit for money damages.
How should you plead?
Every case is unique, and I cannot offer blanket advice on how to plead without knowing the specific facts and circumstances of your case.
If you have hired an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney, your plea at your first court appearance will, in all likelihood, be Not Guilty. This gives the prosecutor and defense attorney time to conduct discovery, where your defense attorney learns more about the government’s case against you, and to conduct pre-trial plea bargaining negotiations.
If your Florida criminal defense lawyer is able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor, you may ultimately agree to a plea of Guilty or No Contest to a reduced charge based on the specific facts and circumstances of your individual case.
Charged with a Crime in central-Florida? Contact The Law Office of Jody L. Fisher Today
If you've been charged with a crime in central-Florida, you need a hard-working and experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Entering a plea of Guilty or No Contest should not be taken lightly. You should fully understand the consequences of your plea before putting it on the record in front of the judge.
If you have been charged with at crime in central-Florida, contact criminal defense attorney Jody L. Fisher today for an initial consultation Call (352) 503-4111, email, or complete our online information form.