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Nolo contendere is a legal term that comes from the Latin for "I do not wish to contend." It is also referred to as a plea of no contest.

In criminal trials, and in some common law jurisdictions, it is a plea where the defendant neither admits nor disputes a charge, serving as an alternative to a pleading of guilty or not guilty.

A no contest plea, while not technically a guilty plea, has the same immediate effect as a guilty plea, and is often offered as a part of a plea bargain.[1] In many jurisdictions a plea of nolo contendere is not a right, and carries various restrictions on its use.



Derived from English common law, several common law jurisdictions, including the United States, also adopted the nolo contendere concept.

United States

In the United States, state law determines whether, and under what circumstances, a defendant may plead no contest. Several other common law countries, however, prohibit the plea altogether.


Residual effects

A nolo contendere plea has the same immediate effects as a plea of guilty, but may have different residual effects or consequences in future actions. For instance, a conviction arising from a nolo plea is subject to any and all penalties, fines, and forfeitures of a conviction from a guilty plea in the same case, and can be considered as an aggravating factor in future criminal actions. However, unlike a guilty plea, a defendant in a Nolo contendere plea may not be required to allocute the charges. This means that a Nolo contendere conviction typically may not be used to establish either negligence per se, malice, or whether the acts were committed at all in later civil proceedings related to the same set of facts as the criminal prosecution.[2]

Under the Federal Rules of Evidence,[3] and most state rules which parallel them, Nolo contendere pleas may not be used to defeat the hearsay prohibition if offered as an "Admission of [a] Party-Opponent".[4] Assuming the appropriate gravity of the charge, and all other things being equal, a guilty plea to the same charge would cause the reverse effect: An opponent at trial could introduce the plea, over a hearsay objection, as evidence to establish a certain fact.[5]


In Alaska, a criminal conviction based on a "nolo" plea may be used against the defendant in future civil actions. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that a "conviction based on a no contest plea will collaterally estop the criminal defendant from denying any element in a subsequent civil action against him that was necessarily established by the conviction, as long as the prior conviction was for a serious criminal offense and the defendant in fact had the opportunity for a full and fair hearing"[6][7].


In Florida, the state Supreme Court held in 2005 that "no contest" convictions may be treated as prior convictions for the purposes of future sentencing[8].


In Texas, the right to appeal the results of a plea bargain taken from a plea of Nolo contendere is highly restricted. Defendants who have entered a plea of Nolo contendere may only appeal the judgment of the court if the appeal is based on written pretrial motions ruled upon by the court[9].


Virginia deviates from the federal evidentiary rule in that a nolo contendere plea entered in a criminal case is admissible in a related civil proceeding.

See also


  1. ^ Stephano Bibas (July 2003). "Harmonizing Substantive Criminal Law Values and Criminal Procedure: The Case of Alford and Nolo contendere Pleas". Cornell Law Review vol. 88 (no. 6). Retrieved 2007-05-10.  
  2. ^ Legal Information Institute. "United States Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 410(2)". Cornell Law School. Retrieved 2007-05-10.  
  3. ^ See Federal Rule of Evidence 410; Federal Rule of Evidence 803(22).
  4. ^ See Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2).
  5. ^ See Federal Rule of Evidence 803(22).
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Lamb v. Anderson No. 6078 (S-11936), P3d 736". Alaska Supreme Court. November 17, 2006.  
  8. ^ "Sheldon Montgomery vs. Florida". March 17, 2005.  
  9. ^ "Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, Rule 25.2(a)". Supreme Court of Texas. 1 January 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-10.  


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