What's the difference between a Nolo Contendre Plea and a Guilty plea?

The recent plea of former judge Ken Anderson in Williamson County has many people wondering what a "Nolo Contendre" plea is, and how it is different from a guilty plea. There are several differences, although in terms of what happens to you there's no real difference.

With a guilty plea, you admit you did what you are charged with, and are guilty of the offense. With a Nolo Contendre plea you don't admit guilt; instead you admit the State has enough evidence to convict you; basically, you concede that if you went to trial you would be convicted.

So why would you plead Nolo Contendre instead of Guilty? The biggest reason is that a defendant doesn't want to admit guilt; there's some distinction in most people's minds between pleading guilty, and conceding you would be convicted if you went to trial. Legally, a Nolo Contendre can't be used against you in a civil trial, although that's rarely an issue.

Some people will try to claim they weren't convicted after a nolo contendre plea but that's not true. The judge still finds you guilty - the end result is no different from when you plead guilty, or go to trial and are convicted.

The policy on nolo contendre pleas differs among different jurisdictions. Some judges will not accept a nolo contendre plea; they may not accept them in all cases, or in only a few types of cases, such as sexual assaults and cases where probation is being offered. Generally, that is more likely to happen in felony cases than in misdemeanor cases. Some District Attorneys may not offer a plea bargain if the defendant is going to plead guilty.

Rarely do you get any benefit out of entering a nolo contendre plea as opposed to guilty. The opposite may instead be true - you may jeopardize an otherwise good deal that has been worked out. As with most things, this is something that should be discussed with an experienced lawyer who is knowledgeable of how things work in your type of case. Contact our office if you want to know what your options are.

Walter Reaves
Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 35 years.