What Is a Plea of Nolo Contendere in a Nevada Criminal Case?

In many criminal cases, entering a plea of nolo contendere, also referred to as no contest, is an alternative to pleading guilty in a criminal case. A no-contest plea is usually part of a plea bargain negotiated by the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer and the prosecutor. 

Pleas in Nevada Criminal Cases

Nevada statutes govern pleas in a criminal case. NRS 174.035 provides that a defendant may enter a plea of “not guilty, guilty, guilty but mentally ill or, with the consent of the court, nolo contendere. The court may refuse to accept a plea of guilty or guilty but mentally ill.

Under NRS 176.211, a plea of nolo contendere, guilty, or guilty but mentally ill may only be withdrawn before sentencing or suspension of sentencing. However, the court may set aside the judgment and allow a defendant to withdraw the plea after sentence “to correct manifest injustice.”

If you’re facing criminal charges and considering entering a plea of nolo contendere, it’s important to understand exactly what a no contest plea means.

What is a “Nolo Contendere” or “No Contest” Plea?

A plea of nolo contendere is not an admission of guilt. However, a defendant who pleads no contest gives up the right to trial. The plea results in an adjudication of guilty by the court and a conviction on the defendant’s record. While a nolo contendere plea is not the same as a guilty plea, a defendant who enters a no contest plea essentially admits that there probably is enough evidence to prove guilt in a trial. In other words, entering a nolo contendere plea avoids a trial without admitting guilt.

A prosecutor may agree to a plea bargain in which the defendant pleads no contest in exchange for reduced charges with lesser penalties or other terms more favorable to the defendant than the original charge.  A nolo contendere plea may be part of a plea bargain that results in a stay of adjudication, that results in dismissal or reduction of charges after the defendant completes sentencing terms, such as payment of a fine or going to classes. The terms of the agreement between defense counsel and the prosecutor govern the ultimate result and plea.

A defendant can maintain innocence when entering a no contest plea, since the defendant does not admit guilt. One specific benefit of a nolo contendere plea is that it cannot be used as evidence in a civil court action.

Taking a plea of nolo contendere allows a defendant to avoid the risk of conviction in a trial and the possibility of the maximum sentence for the crime charged. Although a judge has authority to disregard a plea agreement that includes a no contest plea, the court usually approves a settlement negotiated by the prosecutor and the defendant’s counsel.

Determining Whether to Enter a No Contest Plea

Before you enter a plea in a criminal case, it’s essential to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. There are many strategies that can be used to defend against any charge, as well as defense tactics that can be very effective in negotiating a plea deal with the prosecutor. Entering any plea can have potentially significant long-term effects on your life, even beyond the actual terms of the sentence. You should not ever enter a plea without the benefit of advice from a knowledgeable defense attorney.

Being charged with a crime does not automatically mean you will be convicted. A criminal defense attorney explores all options, to identify the best possible resolution of a case, before advising a defendant to agree to a plea. For example, the evidence may be insufficient to establish guilt in accordance with the statutory requirements for the crime. There may be issues of legality with evidence, such as an illegal search by law enforcement or improper arrest procedures, such as failure to give Miranda warnings when they were required.

Plea bargaining with a prosecutor is a complex process that requires taking several factors into account. A defendant should not attempt to negotiate directly with a prosecutor — or with police immediately after arrest.

A plea bargain can take different forms. The agreement may involve pleading to lesser charges with lighter penalties (referred to as charge bargaining) or pleading to the original crime with a guaranteed sentence (subject to court approval) that is less than the maximum and most severe penalties (called sentence bargaining). In some circumstances, the plea bargain may involve the prosecutor agreeing not to release certain facts in official court proceedings. This type of agreement (known as fact bargaining) is not allowed by some judges.

Here’s the bottom line:  Before you enter a plea of nolo contendere — or any other plea — discuss your case with your lawyer to make certain you understand all the implications and are getting the best possible result in the circumstances.

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney

If you face any state or federal criminal charge in Las Vegas, Henderson, and elsewhere in Clark County, criminal defense attorney Joseph Gersten is here to help. His investigative background and trial experience enable him to provide an aggressive defense for any criminal charge.

At The Gersten Law Firm, there is no charge for your initial consultation and case evaluation. Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.