What Does It Mean to Plead No Contest in Texas?

When you are arrested in Collin County and charged with a criminal offense such as DWI, you are brought before a judge and asked to enter a plea. Typically, a person pleads either “guilty” or “not guilty.” But there is a third option: a plea of “nolo contendere,” or no contest.

A Criminal Record, But No Admission of Guilt for Civil Purposes

Texas law permits defendants to enter a plea of no contest in any misdemeanor or felony case. By pleading no contest, the defendant neither admits nor denies guilt but chooses, for whatever reason, not to take the case to trial. A no contest plea effectively ends the case.

In terms of criminal law, a no contest plea has the same “legal effect” as a guilty plea. For example, say you are charged with DWI and enter a no contest plea. The judge can still sentence you the same as if you had pleaded guilty. The DWI will also become a part of your criminal record.

So why then would anyone plead no contest? For one thing, since there is no admission of guilt, the no contest plea cannot legally be used against you in any civil suit arising from the same underlying act. To continue the above example, suppose your DWI involved an accident with another vehicle. The other driver files a personal injury lawsuit, claiming your negligence–i.e., drunk driving–caused the accident. If you pleaded guilty to the criminal DWI charge (or were convicted after pleading not guilty), that conviction could be used as evidence against you in the civil case. But a no contest plea has no such effect; the other driver would still have to prove that you caused the accident.

Negotiating a No Contest Plea

Even if you are not worried about potential civil liability, a no contest plea may simply allow you to get on with your life. Some people want to avoid the time, expense, and public exposure of a trial. And in many cases, especially first-time DWI offenses where nobody was injured, defendants may be able to secure a favorable sentencing agreement with prosecutors in exchange for a no contest plea.

For instance, former University of Texas and NFL quarterback Vince Young entered a no contest plea earlier this year to a DWI charge. The judge did not order any jail time, but fined Young $300, ordered him to perform community service, and required him to attend a DWI Education class and use an ignition interlock device on his car for nine months.

Now, there is no guarantee you would get similar treatment if charged with DWI. But if you have been charged and need help understanding all your legal options–including the benefits and risks of entering a no contest plea–you should speak with an experienced Collin County criminal defense attorney right away. Call Eddie Cawlfield today at 972-369-0577 to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.