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.
What is a No Contest Plea?
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” 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 directly benefit you. 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.
Why is No Contest Better than Guilty?
Choosing No Contest makes a big difference if someone sues you. Many DUI cases involve a car accident, property damage, or an injury. 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.
If you plead No Contest, you haven’t 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.
Choosing the Right Plea
California is unique. In most other states you cannot plead No Contest to a DUI charge. In most of California you can (Orange County is an exception, and prohibits the plea). In the Los Angele area, it depends on the judge. Some judges won’t 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’re 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.
But you need to speak to them before you enter your plea—and you don’t 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.
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 attorney and get you a FREE session for your case. Simply fill out the form to the right and get your free consultation today.