What Does It Mean to Plead No Contest?

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If you are arrested for a crime and a charge is filed, you will be asked how you plead, and your options are guilty and not guilty – but a plea of no contest may become available to you. While you’re very likely to plead not guilty at this juncture, you might change your plea to no contest if you end up making a plea deal with the prosecution.

Understanding what it means to plead no contest can help you better understand the charge against you and make better-informed decisions throughout the process. One of the most important steps anyone in your situation can take is reaching out for the skilled legal counsel of an experienced Round Rock criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

When You Plead Not Guilty

At your first court appearance after being charged with a crime, which is your arraignment, you will almost certainly plead not guilty, and at this point, your case will be scheduled for a jury trial. When you plead not guilty, you’re saying that you are innocent of the charge brought against you.

If the charge against you isn’t dropped by the prosecution or dismissed by the court pretty early on, your case will go to trial – if you don’t make a plea deal along the way. Most cases don’t make their way to court because most defendants do accept plea deals, and sometimes they involve pleading no contest.

When a Defendant Pleads Guilty or No Contest

When a defendant pleads guilty at arraignment – which is never advised – it means that they have jumped ahead in the process to a conviction of guilt, and the only thing left is sentencing. Defendants don’t have the right to plead no contest at arraignment because they need permission from the court to do so.

A plea of no contest is associated with plea deals that are made further down the line in the criminal justice process. When a defendant pleads guilty, they make it clear that they are admitting guilt. While pleading no contest is less clear, it remains an admission of guilt.

What Is a Plea of No Contest?

When a defendant pleads no contest to a criminal charge, they do not admit guilt but neither do they proclaim their innocence. The court treats a guilty plea and a plea of no contest in exactly the same way. While the defendant avoids admitting guilt, it’s a distinction without a difference because, in the eyes of the law, they are guilty.

When you plead no contest, you tell the court that you accept the charges against you.

If There Is Also a Civil Case Against You

If the charge against you relates to an event that can also support a civil case, pleading no contest can make a difference. If your actions caused someone else to be injured, such as if you were driving drunk and injured someone else in a car accident, they can seek compensation for the physical, financial, and emotional losses they suffered as a result of your negligence.

Such losses can include all the following:

  • The victim’s medical bills

  • The victim’s lost earnings

  • The victim’s pain and suffering

If you plead guilty to the crime in question, it can be used against you as an admission of guilt in relation to the victim’s personal injury case. If you plead no contest, however, it can’t be used against you as an admission of guilt in their personal injury case.

The Judge Does Not Have to Accept Your Request to Plead No Contest

Even if you make a plea deal with the prosecution that involves pleading no contest, you’ll still need the judge’s permission to do so, and they’re not required to accept your request. In fact, in Texas, you can’t plead no contest for felony charges and can’t plead no contest when the defendant may face a related personal injury case that involves substantial damages.

When Pleading No Contest Can Be Advantageous

If you are completely innocent of the crime you’re charged with, pleading no contest, which is the same as pleading guilty, is not advised – but bringing your strongest defense with a seasoned criminal defense attorney backing you up is. There are, however, certain situations in which pleading no contest can be advantageous, including:

  • If the prosecution has a strong case against you and your defense is relatively weak, pleading no contest can work to your advantage.

  • By pleading no contest, you resolve the matter, and you won’t have to spend any additional time worrying about what’s going to happen.

  • When you plead no contest, you bypass the stress and potential shame associated with going to trial.

  • When you plead no contest, you demonstrate that you are willing to cooperate with the law, which can work in your favor.

  • By pleading no contest, you reduce the risk that you may be held responsible for a victim’s damages in a related civil case.

  • For pleading no contest, the charge against you may be reduced, which means that you will potentially spend less time in jail.

  • By pleading no contest, you skip trial, which can save you considerable money in attorney fees and court costs.

Every criminal case is utterly unique. Your savvy criminal defense attorney will help ensure that you make the right choices.

The Downside of Pleading No Contest

There are also, of course, cons that go along with pleading no contest. Consider all the following:

  • When you plead no contest, you give up your right to a jury trial. If you go to trial, there is a chance that you won’t be convicted, but when you plead no contest, you give up that opportunity.

  • Your no contest plea will remain on your criminal record, and it amounts to a guilty plea. This means that it can be used as evidence against you if you face another criminal charge in the future.

  • Pleading no contest comes with the perception of admitting guilt.

Because your criminal record is a matter of public information, you can also face significant social consequences for a plea of no contest that includes all the following:

  • Pleading no contest can seriously tarnish your social standing in the community.

  • Pleading no contest can make it more difficult to rent a home or to obtain a home loan.

  • Pleading no contest can make it more difficult to get a job, and it can directly affect any professional licensure that you may have.

  • Pleading no contest could limit your opportunities to further your education.

Why Prosecutors Offer Plea Deals

Scheduling, preparing for, and executing a criminal trial takes considerable time and effort. Negotiating a plea deal, such as offering the defendant something in exchange for a plea of no contest, can be completed in minutes or hours instead of weeks or months—or even years in some cases. When prosecutors strike deals, they generally do so to keep things moving forward.

Plea deals also offer both the prosecution and the defendant more control over the outcome of the case. Juries are unpredictable, and it is next to impossible to know what kind of verdict they will reach from the outside looking in.

A plea deal, on the other hand, is a sure thing. However, it’s important to remember that a plea deal can have a serious impact on your future and that the prosecution has much less at stake.

You Generally Can’t Appeal a No Contest Plea

If you are convicted of a crime at trial, there is the possibility of an appeal, but if you plead no contest, there generally is not. Only under highly specific circumstances can a plea of no contest be appealed, including:

  • If you can demonstrate that you didn’t understand the consequences of pleading no contest in the first place

  • If you can demonstrate that you were coerced into pleading no contest

  • If you can demonstrate that you were incapacitated or suffered from impaired judgment at the time you pleaded no contest

  • If you can demonstrate that your attorney didn’t advise you well enough in relation to what a no contest deal would mean for you

In other words, things have to go considerably off course before a plea of no contest can be appealed, which makes all of the following of primary importance:

  • Carefully consider your options at every step in the legal process

  • Taking the matter of a no contest plea very seriously

  • Working closely with a formidable criminal defense attorney from the start

The Most Important Choice You Can Make

If you are facing a criminal charge, the most important decision you can make is to retain strong legal representation early on and to avail yourself of your counsel’s keen legal skill and insight throughout the process.

Ultimately, you—as the defendant—will make the final decision regarding whether or not you should accept a plea deal that involves pleading no contest, but your experienced criminal defense attorney will ensure you have the tools, information, and guidance you need to weigh the pros and cons involved and make the right decision for you.


If you’re considering a no contest plea arrangement, you have questions, and answers to some of the questions that criminal defense attorneys hear most often can help.

What do prosecutors offer in exchange for pleading no contest?

A plea deal – also known as a plea bargain or a plea arrangement – generally offers the defendant a lesser charge or a lighter sentence in exchange for pleading no contest.

What does no contest actually mean?

You know exactly what responding guilty or not guilty to a criminal charge means, but responding no contest to the charge against you is more confusing. When you say no contest, it refers to the Latin phrase nolo contendere, which roughly translates to I don’t wish to contest the charges against me.

This means that you are neither admitting guilt nor claiming innocence. Most people think of pleading no contest as meaning that, while they are not guilty, the state likely has enough evidence against them to convict. A plea of no contest is generally considered a legal tool for cutting your losses.

Is an offer of no contest always a good idea?

If you are offered a deal that involves pleading no contest, it may be advantageous, but this is not true across the board. Every criminal case must be considered in relation to the unique circumstances involved and in relation to the defendant’s own unique situation.

Your dedicated criminal defense attorney will help you weigh your options and help you determine if pleading no contest is in your best interest.

If the state offers me a no contest plea deal, do I really need an attorney?

While the prosecution would like you to believe that their offer is a good deal, and while it may seem like a good deal to you from the very challenging position you find yourself in, that doesn’t make it a good deal.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to accepting a plea deal involving no contest because – in the end – you are pleading guilty, which can have monumental consequences moving forward. Discussing the matter with a skilled criminal defense attorney who is up to speed with your case prior to making any decisions is always the best policy.

Make the Call to an Experienced Round Rock Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard is a highly capable Round Rock criminal defense attorney whose impressive track record speaks to his unwavering commitment to his clients’ rights and best interests. Learn more by contacting or calling us at 254-781-422 and scheduling your free consultation today.

Related Reading

Protecting Your Rights in the Face of Texas Criminal Charges

The Criminal Justice System from Pre-Arrest to Finalization in Texas

If You Are Facing Criminal Charges, Should You Take Your Chances with a Jury?

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