If you are facing criminal charges, one of the most difficult decisions you have to make is choosing what plea to enter. While a not guilty plea allows you to take your case to a jury and get acquitted, there are three options if you choose to skip a jury trial and accept consequences for your actions. In addition to pleading guilty, you can also choose to plead no contest or choose an Alford plea. To help you better understand your options and make the best choice, a Raleigh criminal lawyer with Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh is explaining what these two pleas are.
What Is a No Contest Plea in North Carolina?
Also known as nolo contendre, a no contest plea is similar to entering a guilty plea. Rather than having guilt or innocence determined by a jury, the defendant waives their right to a trial, is convicted of the crime, and will face sentencing directly by the judge. The key difference between entering a guilty plea versus a plea of no contest is that the defendant is not directly admitting guilt for the crime while accepting the punishment. Basically, it sends the statement of, “I am not contesting these criminal charges, but I will not attempt to prove innocence nor disprove guilt.”
In order for this plea to be accepted, both the prosecutor and judge must agree to allow the defendant to enter it. If either party says no, the defendant will either have to enter a guilty or not guilty plea (and take the case to a jury).
Determining the Pros and Cons of Pleading No Contest
Now that you have a better idea of what a no contest plea is, let’s look at the benefits and concerns of choosing this option.
Benefits of a No Contest Plea
There are two key benefits to choosing to plead no contest.
- Unlike a guilty plea, this option can’t be used as evidence in any future cases.
- The prosecutor may allow the defendant to choose this option even during a plea bargain, meaning it’s still possible to get a reduced sentence without actually admitting guilt in the case.
Also, by avoiding a trial, the defendant may get a lighter sentence from the judge than if the defendant goes before a jury and is convicted of the charges.
Downsides of a No Contest Plea
When a defendant pleads no contest, and this is not part of a plea bargain, they are facing sentencing that is either left up to the judge or will be determined by mandatory minimum sentencing. Also, if the defendant is innocent, they will still face punishment for a crime they didn’t commit.
What Is an Alford Plea?
North Carolina is one of the few states that allows a defendant to use an Alford plea. Like a plea of no contest, an Alford plea means that the defendant pleads guilty and a conviction will result. However, the key difference is that with this option, the defendant is claiming they are innocent.
Often, the defendant chooses this option when it’s determined that there’s enough evidence to result in a conviction, and they may get a reduced or lighter sentence by skipping the jury trial and going directly before the judge. This allows the defendant to maintain that they are innocent and not admit responsibility for any of the charges.
Speak with a Raleigh Criminal Lawyer 24 Hours a Day
If you are facing criminal charges, you need an experienced defense attorney on your side to help you navigate the legal system. You should never consider a plea bargain or determine how you should plead in your case without receiving personalized legal counsel from a knowledgeable attorney who is fighting for your best interests.
To schedule a free consultation with our law firm, reach out to us today, either by calling (919) 887-8040 or filling out the form below to get started.