The outcome of a criminal case seems fairly simple. Someone is either guilty or not guilty. In Michigan, when facing misdemeanor charges such as operating while intoxicated (OWI), defendants have another plea option: no contest.

Here’s a brief overview of what a no contest plea means, and why someone might opt to use it.

Guilty, not guilty, no contest

If you plead not guilty, you’re denying the accusations outright. By pleading guilty, you’re admitting to the alleged misbehavior and accepting punishment.

A no contest plea falls somewhere in the middle of the two. When you plead no contest, you are not admitting to any of the behaviors or accusations laid out in the criminal charges. Nor are you outright denying them.

Instead, you’re simply saying you will accept the court’s punishment despite not admitting guilt. In most cases, you may face the exact same criminal penalties for pleading no contest as you would if you’d pleaded guilty.

So why put forward a no contest plea?

Considering other cases

The main reason someone may choose to plead no contest is connected to other legal cases that might happen. For example, let’s say you were involved in a car crash which resulted in another driver suffering injuries. That driver then opted to file a personal injury lawsuit against you, alleging your negligence caused them harm.

In Michigan, if you had pleaded guilty in a criminal case tied to that same crash, your admission of wrongdoing and ultimate conviction could be used as evidence in the civil lawsuit. By contrast, if you had pleaded no contest in the criminal case – thereby not admitting to any misbehavior – the outcome effectively could not be used as evidence in the civil action.

That is an important factor for both you and your defense attorney to take into account. You might also consider a no contest plea if you want to speed up the proceedings, or if your lawyer believes a court might be more lenient with its punishment than a jury.

None of this is to say pleading no contest is always the right thing to do. The choice depends on the unique circumstances of each case, including an individual’s goals, the severity of the charges and the impact of a plea on other proceedings.

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