Guilty or No Contest?
Why Knowing the Difference Can Make All the Difference.
The two most common pleas a person can enter before sentencing are the guilty plea, and the no contest plea. Both pleas can seem very similar, since both result in a conviction. However, in situations where there is a victim who is injured (and who may later sue for damages), it is important to understand the distinction.
Guilty? No Contest? What’s the difference?
In a nutshell, the basic difference under Wisconsin Statute Section 971.06 is this:
- Guilty plea: the defendant admits that he or she committed the acts alleged by the prosecution. Guilty pleas are the most common type of plea in Wisconsin.
- No Contest plea: the defendant does not admit to the facts alleged by the prosecutor. However, he or she also does not dispute that the jury could find him or her guilty – if the case went to trial.
Put another way, when you enter a plea of guilty, you are admitting that you did the crime. When you enter a plea of no contest, you are essentially admitting that a jury could find you guilty based on the evidence the State has against you, but you are not going that one extra step and admitting that you actually did it. So why doesn’t everybody plead no contest then? Simply put, not all judges accept no contest pleas. Why? Because they feel going that extra step is necessary to show that you truly acceptance responsibility for your actions.
What does this mean for you?
The significance of this distinction is that anyone who files a civil lawsuit against you for the same conduct as that in the criminal case, cannot use the conviction in your criminal case as evidence of guilt in the lawsuit.
If the crime to which you are pleading involves a victim with injuries or damaged/stolen property, it is better to enter a no contest plea to prevent your conviction from being used as ammunition against you if you get sued.
The bottom line.
Remember, both the guilty plea and the no contest plea will result in a conviction. But a no contest plea is the better plea to enter in situations where a victim could later sue for damages in a separate civil suit.
This information is not meant to serve as legal advice. You should consult with a qualified attorney before making any decisions about your case and never rely solely on information found on the Internet.