Can a "no contest" plea bite you later in life?


"No contest" pleas are like guilty pleas, except when it comes to civil liability.

I am charged with a misdemeanor, reckless driving. If I plead "no contest," will I have a conviction on my record--and can the no-contest plea be offered into evidence against me if I am sued in civil court?


A no-contest plea, known often by its Latin name nolo contendere, has the same legal effect as a guilty plea. If you plead no contest to a criminal charge,you will have a conviction on your record, just as though you had pleaded guilty or been convicted after a trial.

The advantage of a no-contest plea compared to a guilty plea is that a no-contest plea generally cannot be offered into evidence in a civil case. (But see Can a plea of “no contest” count against you in civil court?)

Let's say that your alleged reckless driving damaged a storefront. The owner of the store might file a civil complaint against you seeking to obtain a money judgment for the damage you caused to the building. If you plead guilty in the criminal case, the building owner can offer that plea into evidence in the civil case to prove you are responsible for the damage. But if you plead no contest, the owner likely cannot offer that plea into evidence in the civil case. This is the main reason for pleading no contest rather than guilty.

For more information, see Can a judge refuse to accept a “no contest” or nolo contendere plea?

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