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Discussion on The Three Major Pleas: Guilty, Not Guilty, and No Contest


Clients often ask me to describe the meanings and the parameters of the three most common pleas in a criminal case: not guilty, guilty, and no contest.  It is important that criminal defendants understand the definitions of these pleas, when to enter these pleas, and how they fit into the overall defense strategy.  This article will discuss all of these issues so that you can understand why you are entering a particular plea in your case.

Guilty Plea

When a criminal defendant enters a plea of guilty to a charge, he or she is making a complete admission of guilt to every element of that charge.  Usually after entering a guilty plea, the defendant will be sentenced by the judge.  Since a plea of guilty is a complete admission, you must be very careful before making a guilty plea.  It is highly recommended that you consult a lawyer before making a guilty plea.

First, it is not unusual for a defendant to incorrectly believe that he or she is guilty of the charged offense.  Each offense is carefully defined by the Ohio Criminal Code, and defendants often do not understand the precise definition of the offenses for which they are charged.  Furthermore, even where a defendant is probably guilty of the charged offense, it is still advisable for the defendant to initially plead not guilty.

Sometimes clients come into my office and tell me that they believe they are guilty of the offense for which they are charged.  Nevertheless, my advice to them is usually to plead not guilty at the beginning of their case.  We do this for a number of reasons.


No Contest Plea vs. Guilty Plea


The difference between a no contest and a guilty plea exists mainly in the part of the process after the Court case.  If you plead guilty, your record will always be treated in the system as guilty.  If, however, you enter a no contest plea, the record is treated differently.  Yes, in some cases, you may be accepting similar immediate consequences to a guilty plea when you enter a no contest plea.  Sometimes the long-term consequences may be similar as well.  But sometimes what happens after a no contest plea can be more desirable when the case is over.  The main advantage of entering a no contest plea instead of a guilty plea is that a no contest plea allows you to appeal the decision of a judge or magistrate after the fact.  If you enter a guilty plea, you waive your right to appeal whatever the Court decides.


Is it Better to Plead Not Guilty or No Contest?


Whether it is better to enter a guilty plea or a no contest plea depends on your situation and the facts surrounding your case.  While a no contest plea may sometimes seem to carry lighter consequences than a guilty plea, a guilty plea may sometimes get a better deal than a no contest plea.  The negotiation and the deals offered by the prosecutor should often be part of your consideration, but there are other factors as well.  For example, you may want to ask the question of whether or not the crime you are charged with can be expunged.  If so, it may not be worth your while to plead no contest.  But it is important to reiterate, every situation is different.  Sometimes you may want to expunge a record even if you do enter a no contest plea and later appeal the decision.  Furthermore, you should always keep in mind that Courts do not have to grant you an expungement just because your record is expungable.  For more information about expungements, you can visit some of our previous articles such as Updated Expungement.


Does a No Contest Plea go on Your Record?


Yes, if you are involved in a criminal case, the Court’s proceedings are public record, including how you plead.  The risks of pleading no contest vary depending on the offense, but generally speaking, the fact that you pled no contest will be on your record.  When it comes to your record, your main concern should normally be the ultimate results of the case.  In most cases, pleading no contest will make a conviction more likely, and the conviction can be problematic on your record depending on the crime, which types of jobs you are trying to get, etc.  There can also be cases where you do not want a charge showing up on your record at all, regardless of how you pled.

One Other Note


It may seem that there is not much of a need for no contest pleas in Juvenile Court.  After all, most delinquency adjudications are automatically expunged in Ohio.  While this is true that no contest pleas are rarely necessary or advisable in the Juvenile Court situation, it is still possible.  No contest pleas do exist in Ohio Juvenile Courts, just like in adult courts.  If you have questions regarding how you should plea on your Juvenile case, or any other questions in Juvenile (or adult) Court, feel free to contact us via our website, social media, or phone number: (513) 932-5529.





When facing legal trouble of any kind, it is imperative that you understand all of your options so that you can go forward in the most informed way possible.  You should understand not only the meanings of the different types of pleas but also the consequences of taking those pleas.  While you can (and should) hire a lawyer to help you understand the different options within the Courts system and the options in your individual case, the legal decisions you make are ultimately up to you.  Therefore, the better you understand your situation, the more prepared you will be.  If you need help with a criminal charge, or any other legal issue, feel free to contact Dearie, Fischer & Matthews.