Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Ask the Judge" Column continues in La Prensa SA, 11-25

Ask the Judge: Pleading “no contest” vs. “guilty”
By Judge Steve Walker

When a defendant pleads “guilty” to a charge, he/she understands they will face some penalty such as a fine or other mandate handed down by a Judge for their actions in a Justice of the Peace Court.

However, when a defendant pleads  “nolo contendere,  in lieu of guilty, it may change the dynamics in terms of punishment. The legal term comes from the Latin for "I do not wish to contend." It is also referred to as a plea of “no contest.”

In criminal trials, and in some common law jurisdictions, it is a plea where the defendant neither admits nor disputes a charge serving as an alternative to a pleading of guilty or not guilty.

A no-contest plea, while not technically a guilty plea, has the same immediate effect as a guilty plea, and is often offered as a part of a plea bargain. In many jurisdictions a plea of nolo contendere is not a right, and carries various restrictions on its use.

In Justice of the Peace Court, many violators of the traffic laws for example plead “no contest,” (nolo contendere) rather than admit guilt which is their right under law. If there is a plea of guilty, then there is a bench trial unless the defendant opts for a jury trial.

Many defendants in my court obviously don’t understand that the only difference between the two pleas are in the semantics and either way the cases will be handled as if the two separate pleas carry the same weight as previously stated.

The only time it actually does have continuing implications in the two pleas is when a traffic ticket is issued involving a car accident or collision when one of the parties involved is issued a citation by the officer who files a police report reflecting an allegation that the party was at fault for causing the accident.

If the defendant in Justice of the Peace Court opts to plead “guilty” for that specific violation that may have caused the accident, that admission can be entered as evidence in a civil suit that a plaintiff is seeking damages and medical expenses stemming from the accident.

If on the other hand the plea is “no contest” the ticket cannot be used as evidence to bolster the civil suit. As far as the traffic ticket goes, either plea will be entered and fines and time to pay kick into play.

Lastly as always, if you are due in court, be sure to show up to court on time. It is in everyone’s best interest.

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2 Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and a former Journalist.

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