In most California DUI cases, you have the option of pleading “No Contest” rather than guilty. If you choose this plea, you will be found guilty and sentenced—but there are times when it is better than a guilty plea. This is especially true if you’re facing a lawsuit over your alleged DUI. But you need to understand the benefits and drawbacks before you enter a No Contest plea.
Your Los Angeles DUI lawyer will carefully examine the specific details of your case to determine which plea is going to produce a more favorable outcome in your case. Contact our office for a free consultation today and learn more about which plea is going to be a better fit for your DUI case.
Types of Pleas Under California Law
When you go to court for any criminal charge, you have the power to enter one of three pleas:
- Not Guilty
- No Contest
“Guilty” means you admit your guilt. The judge will sentence you, and you will not have to fight it out in court.
“Not Guilty” Pleas
“Not Guilty” is the plea most people want to enter. It means you maintain your innocence or believe that what happened does not match the charges made by the prosecutor. In many cases, if you plead Not Guilty, you will need to stand trial.
“No contest” is different. It means you don’t want to fight the charge. That’s it. You’re not saying you’re guilty, and you’re not saying you’re not guilty – you just aren’t going to fight it.
However: the result of a no-contest plea is the same as the result of a guilty plea. The judge will find you guilty. And you will face the same penalties as if you pled guilty in the first place.
Because of this, a no-contest plea should only be used when it’s going to benefit you directly. It’s not really a “middle ground” between guilty and not guilty, because people will still just see it as a conviction—including future employers. But if you have to plead guilty, it may be worthwhile to choose no contest instead.
What Is a No-Contest Plea?
Also commonly referred to as a nolo contendere plea, no contest pleas mean you are giving up your right to defend yourself in court. Although you might have thought a no-contest plea was in your best interests, you may be surprised to learn how influential a no-contest plea could be.
Despite the fact that a no-contest plea tells the Los Angeles courts that you are not going to be fighting the charges against you, this essentially becomes a guilty verdict. Not contesting the charges against you will result in the same sentencing you would receive if you were found guilty in a court of law. Although you may not be pleading guilty, the effect will still be the same in most cases.
Consequences of a DUI Conviction in Los Angeles
If you are found guilty of a DUI in Los Angeles, the penalties you could face could be severe. If you are a first-time, non-violent offender, you may be charged at the misdemeanor level.
However, if you are a habitual offender or someone suffered significant injuries or death as a result of your drunk driver, you may be charged with felony DUI. Some of the penalties you might face if you are found guilty or plead No Contest include:
- Suspension or revocation of your driver’s license
- Jail or prison time
- Probation requirements
- Fines and restitution
- Vehicle impoundment
- Suspension or revocation of your professional certifications or licenses
- Loss of Federal student aid eligibility
- Employment problems
- Citizenship or immigration issues
- Child custody or visitation problems
- Difficulty finding safe or affordable housing
These are only a few of the more common consequences you could be facing if you are convicted or plead No Contest in your DUI case. With the penalties this severe, it is essential that you get an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer to help you clear your name.
Why Is No Contest Better than Guilty?
If pleading No Contest has the same effect that pleading guilty does, why should you plead No Contest as opposed to pleading guilty? The answer can be complex.
Choosing No Contest makes a big difference if someone sues you. Many DUI cases involve a car accident, property damage, or injury. Injury victims have the opportunity to hold drunk drivers accountable for their damages.
In addition to facing the criminal penalties of a DUI conviction in criminal court, you could also be held accountable civilly. You can expect the injury victims to wait until your criminal case has ended before they file their civil claim. This way, they can:
- Use your guilty plea as evidence of liability
- Use the jury‘s verdict as proof that you are liable for the victim’s injuries
Fortunately, if you plead No Contest, you may be able to prevent this evidence from being used against you. Legally, if you were driving drunk and caused the accident, you can be held liable for the damages. The cost can range from hundreds of dollars in a fender bender to tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Anyone involved in the accident may choose to sue you for these costs. But for them to win, they have to prove their case. If you plead guilty to your DUI, that’s all the proof they need—you already admitted, in front of a judge, that you drove drunk. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll win, but it makes it a lot more likely.
Is Pleading “No Contest” Admitting Guilt?
If you plead no contest, you have not admitted anything. The person suing you will have to find other proof that you “drove under the influence,” and you can dispute the evidence they use. Even breath test records are not full proof.
However, if your DUI is being charged at the felony level, you could still be at risk of being held accountable in civil court, as no contest pleas are only shielded from use and civil claims if they are at the misdemeanor or infraction level.
When to Plead No Contest
Pleading no contest may also be to your benefit in other situations. Here are a few situations in which pleading no contest could be the best decision for your case:
- You do not want to deal with the anxiety or stress of going to trial
- You feel confident that you would not be acquitted or found not guilty at trial
- You hope to avoid a conviction being used against you as part of a civil claim
If you hope to protect yourself or your family from information involving your DUI from becoming a part of the public record, pleading no contest may be in your best interest. Only court convictions are considered public record.
When you plead no contest, certain facts of your case can be kept hidden from the public record if there are certain facts that will support the prosecution‘s case against you. This could help protect your reputation in the future.
When You Should Not Plead No Contest
Sometimes, it is not a good idea to plead No Contest. Giving up your right to defend yourself could come with serious consequences. However, depending on the judge presiding over your case, refusing to admit guilt by pleading No Contest could have a negative impact on how the judge decides to sentence you.
People who plead guilty may be sentenced to shorter terms more often than someone who pleas No Contest. If the judge is unhappy that you refuse to admit to the charges against you, they may be more willing to impose a harsher sentence.
How to Challenge DUI Charges in Los Angeles
When you are facing DUI charges in California, defending yourself is of utmost importance. If you are going to plead not guilty to the charges against you, you will need to be prepared with a compelling defense strategy. Some of the more common types of defenses that could be used to challenge Los Angeles DUIs include:
- Insufficient evidence
- Mistake of fact
- Procedural issues
- Police misconduct
- Unlawful stop
- Constitutional rights violations
- Issues with chemical blood alcohol test results
In some cases, you may be able to enter into a pretrial diversion program which could allow you to avoid the impact of a criminal conviction altogether. Pretrial diversion programs may be available for first-time, non-violent offenders. After completing the terms of a pretrial diversion program, the prosecuting attorney may be willing to reduce your charges or dismiss the DUI altogether.
Choosing the Right Plea
California is unique. In most other states, you cannot plead No Contest to a DUI charge. In most areas of California, you can (Orange County is an exception, and prohibits the plea).
In the Los Angeles area, it depends on the judge. Some judges will not allow it, but many will. The best way to find out how you should plead is to talk to a DUI lawyer.
A DUI lawyer will know the judge you are facing and how that judge feels about no contest. They will know whether it makes sense for you to negotiate a plea deal, which could get you a lighter sentence or a reduced charge. Pleading no contest could come out in your favor.
Don’t Wait to File
You need to speak to a lawyer before you enter your plea—and you do not have much time. You must enter your plea at your arraignment, a short court hearing often within one week of your arrest. If you go in unprepared, you could make a mistake that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Get Help from a DUI Lawyer in Los Angeles Today
Facing a DUI is difficult. There is no way to make it simply go away, but the right lawyer can make it a lot easier. They will help you understand legal options you may not have even known you had, and they will be the one person in the legal system who has your best interests at heart.
We can connect you with a top Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a free session for your case. When you are ready to schedule your confidential consultation, reach out to our office by phone or through our contact form.