What Happens If I Plead Guilty? No Contest? Not Guilty?

Prior to a criminal trial, during an arraignment hearing, a defendant has the chance to enter his or her plea. The defendant has three options to plead: guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Understanding the substantial differences between these pleas, and what will happen after, can help inform your criminal defense strategy. Before you decide which route to choose, discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Otherwise, you could hurt your case by selecting the wrong option.

Pleading Guilty

Pleading guilty during your first hearing generally means the courts will find you guilty of the crime in question and issue a sentence. An important thing to note, however, is that a judge cannot automatically accept a guilty plea. There must be enough facts and evidence supporting the allegation that the defendant actually committed the crime before a judge can rule the defendant guilty, even if he or she is admitting guilt in the plea. This is to prevent innocent defendants from pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.

After pleading guilty, a defendant can negotiate a plea deal with the judge. Plea deals aim to minimize the sentence for the defendant, usually based on no prior criminal history, good behavior, or other factors of the case. A defense lawyer can help negotiate a satisfactory plea deal after pleading guilty. Judges will usually agree to plea bargains as long as they consider the deal as fair. Before completing conviction and sentencing, a judge will make sure there is enough evidence to prove the defendant committed the crime, to avoid sentencing an innocent person.

Pleading No Contest

A no contest plea is similar to a guilty plea in that the defendant is accepting punishment for his or her actions. However, “no contest” does not mean the defendant admits guilt. Instead, the defendant is not contending the charge either way. A no contest plea can benefit defendants in related civil cases, as it does not require an admission of fault. In other words, if a defendant pleads no contest during a criminal hearing, plaintiffs in a civil hearing cannot use an admission of guilt to prove liability.

If you plead no contest, the courts will convict you of the crime and give you a sentence, as would be the case if you pled not guilty. You give up your right to contest the charges or prove your innocence during a criminal trial, and the case moves directly to sentencing. Not all defendants have the option of pleading no contest, however; it is up to the judge to allow a no contest plea. A judge will assess the defendant and public interest before allowing a no contest plea.

Pleading Not Guilty

If you plead not guilty, you are saying you disagree with the charge and did not commit the offense in question. Your case will then move to a series of trials in which you have the opportunity to present your defense against the prosecution’s evidence of your alleged guilt. All defendants who plead not guilty have the right to a defense attorney. First, you’ll go to a pre-trial conference, where all parties involved can discuss which legal issues are in dispute and how to proceed. If parties cannot resolve the matter during the pre-trial conference, the case will go to trial.

Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney if you plan on pleading not guilty. John Phebus can help you refute the prosecution’s evidence, build your defense, and work to achieve case dismissal or a not guilty verdict. You may plead not guilty and argue your case even if you committed the crime. In the American justice system, you are innocent until someone proves you guilty. The lawyer you choose to represent your case can make all the difference in its outcome, no matter what you plead.