The No Contest Plea and the Legend of the Legal “Loophole”

Frequently, I get calls from individuals who are upset that they were convicted of a misdemeanor and now have to go to jail, pay a fine or be on probation. I inquire why they are surprised and frequently I am told that they plead no contest and expected the case to be "thrown out."  They tell me they "heard" pleading No Contest was a loophole in the system. However, in their case, the "loophole" did not work so well. Several times I have inquired as to the details of what they heard about the "loophole," and usually I am told the following:

"I have a friend who knows a "guy" who had to go to court for a misdemeanor criminal charge. This "guy" called a lawyer before he went to court and the lawyer told the "guy" to plead no contest. Now when the "guy" got to court, the judge told everybody that they could plea guilty, not guilty or no contest. Now this "guy" wanted it "over with" but did not want to plead guilty so he said No Contest. And you know what, his case was "thrown out" and he did not get anything on his record."

Although this has probably happened at some point in the history of the criminal justice system somewhere in this country, it will not happen to you in your case. No contest is not a legal loophole. If you plead not contest at arraignment or any time to a criminal charge, you will be found guilty and sentenced. No contest is a special plea that serves only one specific purpose: your plea cannot be used against you in another legal matter. The primary legal benefit of this is to avoid automatic liability in a civil lawsuit. For example, a no contest plea to a charge of failure to control where there is property damage to another vehicle, will prevent the opposing party from introducing your admission in a civil suit. This is in contrast to a guilty plea which can be admitted into civil court to conclusively prove liability (that you were at fault in the accident).

A no contest plea does have its purposes in cases where there is the potential for civil liability (auto accident, assault with injury, property damage), but it is also best used only with the assistance of counsel. I strongly recommend that you obtain legal advise from an experienced criminal defense attorney, not a friend who knows a "guy" whose name no one can ever seem to remember.