You may have heard the term “no contest,” when a defendant responds to criminal charges. Pleading no contest is generally used in a plea agreement. As part of the agreement, the defendant agrees to accept the conviction without admitting guilt in court. No contest will result in a guilty finding but there may be some benefits compared to simply pleading guilty.
How you answer to criminal charges can be very important. Make sure you understand the meaning and consequences of your answer. Even if you agree to the proposed sentence, there may be collateral consequences of a conviction, including immigration consequences or loss of your rights.
If you have questions about a plea agreement after a DUI, talk to your East Bay DUI defense lawyer for advice. Your attorney can negotiate for reduced charges or build a strong defense to fight the charges in court.
How Do You Plead After a Drunk Driving Arraignment?
The arraignment is the first court appearance after a drunk driving arrest. The judge reads the formal charges and the defendant responds with one of the following:
- Not guilty
- No contest
Responding guilty means the case is essentially over. The judge will impose a sentence and that will be the end of your day in court. Not guilty means that the case will be scheduled for trial, where the prosecutor will try and prove all elements of the offense to the jury. No contest will also lead to a conviction and sentencing but the difference is the defendant is not admitting guilt.
Nolo Contendere and Civil Liability
No contest is also known from the Latin term, nolo contendere, meaning “I do not wish to contend.” If no contest is treated like a guilty plea, why would the defendant plead no contest? There are benefits to a no-contest plea. By not admitting guilt, the words of the driver cannot be used against them in a civil case.
For example, a driver gets into an accident, causing serious injury to a cyclist. The police show up and suspect the driver is impaired. The driver is arrested and blood tests show a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the limit of 0.08%. The driver is facing criminal charges for impaired driving causing serious bodily injury.
If the cyclist files a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the cyclist could use the driver's guilty plea as evidence that the driver admitted fault for driving drunk. If the driver pleads no contest, the cyclist would have to use other evidence to show the driver was impaired and impaired driving caused the accident.
Can I Take Back My No Contest Plea?
In most cases, after you plead guilty or no contest, the judge will ask some questions to make sure you understand how you are pleading, and then move on to sentencing, within about 5 days after the plea. The defendant may have second thoughts later and want to go back and change their plea to not guilty. Before the judge sentences you, you may be able to withdraw your appeal. However, it may be difficult to change your plea after the court has entered the conviction and sentence.
There are limited circumstances where a defendant can change their plea. Generally, the defendant has to show they did not knowingly or voluntarily plead no contest. As part of the plea, the defendant generally has to respond:
- I have not been induced to enter a plea by any promise or representation except for the agreement with the prosecutor.
- I am entering the plea freely and voluntarily, without threat or rear to me or anyone closely related.
- I am sober and my judgment is not impaired.
- I have not consumed drugs, alcohol, or narcotics within the past 24 hours.
- I understand that a plea of No Contest is the same as a plea of guilty for all purposes.
What Rights Do You Give Up in a No Contest Plea?
You have legal rights in a criminal trial. By pleading guilty or no contest, you are waiving a number of constitutional rights. The rights a defendant gives up by pleading no contest include:
- Right to an attorney
- Right to a speedy trial
- Right to a trial by jury
- Right to confront witnesses
- Right to remain silent
- Right to present evidence
Immigration Consequences of a No Contest Plea
Some criminal offenses have immigration consequences. Non-citizens can be deported or removed if they have committed crimes that are considered aggravated felonies, crimes of moral turpitude, drug offenses, domestic violence, or firearms offenses. Generally, a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol will not lead to removal proceedings. However, reckless driving DUI or a DUI with injury could be a removable offense. Talk to your East Bay DUI defense lawyer for advice before giving up your rights.
East Bay DUI Attorney Representation
If you are arrested anywhere in Contra Costa County or Alameda County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the DUI laws and DMV regulations. With over 37 years of DUI experience, Lynn Gorelick understands how a DUI conviction can impact your life. Contact our office today for help after a drunk driving arrest.