no contest

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A plea by a criminal defendant that they will not contest a charge. A no contest plea does not expressly admit guilt, but nonetheless waives the right to a trial and authorizes the court to treat the criminal defendant as if they were guilty for purposes of sentencing. However, a no contest plea does not act as an admission of guilt for any purpose beyond the case in which it is plead. Consequently, a plea of no contest cannot be used against the defendant in a civil suit arising from the same cause of action. As a result, when there is an impending threat of a civil suit, a defendant has a strong incentive to plead no contest because a no contest plea does not establish the facts of the prior case and does not act as an admission of fault. However, a defendant who testifies in a subsequent proceeding may be impeached by their earlier conviction, even if was a result of a no contest plea.

Also referred to as “nolo contendere,” which is a Latin phrase meaning “I will not contest.”

[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]