nolo contendere

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Nolo contendere means "no contest." This phrase translates from the Latin as "I do not wish to contend."

In a criminal proceeding, a defendant may enter a plea of nolo contendere, in which the defendant does not accept or deny responsibility for the charges but waives the right to a trial and agrees to accept the penalty.

The plea differs from a guilty plea because a "no contest" plea cannot be used against the defendant in another cause of action

Some states do not allow defendants to ask the court's permission to plead nolo contendere. In federal cases, the Rules of Federal Criminal Procedure allow such pleas, with the court's permission. In all cases, the court must determine whether to allow the plea. The court has broad discretion but usually considers the parties’ circumstances and overall public policy considerations.

See also: Alford plea

For more on nolo contendere, see this Cornell Law Review article, and this University of Florida Law Review article

[Last updated in July of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]