Should I Plead Guilty or Nolo Contendere to a DUI Charge?

While the question above is ultimately up to each individual client, one should never reach such a decision without first consulting with a seasoned criminal defense attorney. Likewise, it is important to understand that as opposed to entering a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, an individual charged with any crime always has the ability to enter and maintain a plea of not guilty. Furthermore, even if a defendant feels they may be guilty of an offense like DUI, the entry of a plea of not guilty will not offend the judge or the prosecution. Such a plea simply signifies that the individual charged is presently not in a posture to resolve their case. However, if after careful consideration and following consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney a person charged with a DUI thinks resolving their case short of a trial is best then it is worth understanding the difference between a plea of guilty and a plea of nolo contendere.

Nolo contendere pleas aren’t well understood–some people charged with DUI don’t even know they’re an option. And in some cases such a plea may not be an option as a judge is not obligated to accept such a plea. In other words, if you have been charged with DUI in Florida, you may or may not have the opportunity to plead nolo contendere. Further, while the entry of a plea of nolo contendere may be personally beneficial to a defendant, the entry of such a plea will not result in a different outcome than if a defendant entered a plea of guilty.

What is a Nolo Contendere Plea?

“Nolo contendere” means “I do not wish to contest” in Latin. That’s commonly shortened to describe a nolo contendere plea as a “no contest” plea. In simple terms, it means just what it sounds like. A defendant who pleads no contest isn’t admitting guilt, but saying “I’m not going to fight this charge.”

Additionally, since the entry of a nolo contendere plea tells the court that a defendant does not wish to contest the charges against them, a nolo contendere plea has some of the same effects as a guilty plea. Thus, a person who enters a no contest plea will be sentenced for the crime just as if they had admitted guilt. And, a nolo contendere plea to the charge of DUI will always result in a criminal conviction. Given that the results of a no contest and guilty plea are the same one may wonder why such an option exists. The answer is that a plea of nolo contendere provides an option for an individual who may believe in their own innocence, but who feels such a resolution to be in their best interests an option to resolve their case without explicitly admitting guilt.

It is also important to know that some industries and professions require background checks. As such, these fields may require professionals to report criminal convictions. Thus it is critical to understand that a nolo contendere plea to a DUI will not only result in a criminal conviction, but it would require individuals in such fields to report such a conviction. Others may treat the entry of such a plea as creating a rebuttable presumption of guilt. That means the person is presumed to have committed the crime, but will have the opportunity to present evidence to contradict that presumption.

In other words, a nolo contendere plea can still have serious consequences.

When a nolo contendere plea is offered, it may not have the impact you’re expecting. Therefore, it’s critical to understand all of your options and to consult with a DUI lawyer in Jacksonville. An experienced criminal defense lawyer, who specilizes in DUI cases, can not only explain to you the differences between pleading guilty, nolo contendere, and not guilty, but they can also advise you of the consequences of any such plea, and evaluate the merits of your case. Entering a plea isn’t always the right answer in a Florida DUI case. If you’re considering a plea–whether guilty or nolo contendere–make sure you fully understand your rights, your options, and the possible defense you may have before making that decision.

Remember, an experienced Florida DUI lawyer can be your best source of information about the pros and cons of entering a plea in your case, and can explain the differences between a guilty plea and a no contest plea in greater detail.

What’s the Advantage of a No Contest Plea?

Since a person who pleads no contest may face criminal penalties, and may find the charge used against them in determining sentencing in a later criminal case, you may be wondering what the benefits of a nolo contendere plea are. Here’s a possible advantage:

Because a nolo contendere plea is not considered an admission of guilt, it cannot be used against the defendant in a civil case. For example, if someone accused of driving under the influence crashed their car into someone’s home and did $50,000 worth of damage, the homeowner might file a civil lawsuit against the driver. A guilty plea could be used as evidence of the driver’s negligence, since it is an admission that the driver was operating under the influence. But, if the driver entered a no contest plea, the homeowner would have to prove the driver was negligent.

What Happens When You Plead Guilty to DUI?

A criminal defendant can enter a guilty plea without any agreement with the prosecuting attorney. But, that’s generally not the best approach. When a DUI defendant or other criminal defendant enters a guilty plea with no agreed boundaries, the criminal court judge can enter judgment of conviction and impose any sentence that is permissible under the law. The prosecuting attorney may argue for a particular sentence, and the defendant will have the opportunity to put forth their own argument. But, ultimately, anything can happen within the bounds of the statute. Furthermore, because a DUI is an offense for which the Florida Legislature has mandated certain minimum penalties, it is usually inadvisable to enter a plea to a DUI without a negotiated sentence.

Thus it should come as no surprise that most people in Florida who plead guilty to a DUI have a plea agreement. Ideally, everyone who elects to enter a plea of guilty to a DUI has already consulted with an experienced Jacksonville DUI attorney. The reason being that a seasoned local criminal defense lawyer can assess your case for weaknesses, negotiate with the prosecuting attorney for the best deal possible, and make sure you understand all of the possible consequences of a guilty plea.

Also just as with a plea of nolo contendere, Florida law does not allow a withhold of adjudication in DUI cases, so a guilty plea will result in a conviction on your criminal record.

Talk to an Experienced Jacksonville DUI Attorney

If you’re considering pleading guilty or entering a no contest plea to a Florida DUI, it’s important to make sure you fully understand:

  • Your rights and possible defenses–entering a plea may not be the best answer for you
  • How the facts of your case may provide leverage for a favorable plea agreement
  • How a guilty plea or nolo contendere plea will impact you, including both direct and indirect consequences

Attorney Matthew Lufrano has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in Jacksonville and throughout the state of Florida. He’s been designated a Board Certified Expert in Criminal Trial Law by the Florida Bar, and has tried over seventy-five cases before Florida juries.

If you’ve been charged with DUI in or around Jacksonville, Lufrano Legal, P.A. can help. We offer free consultations to people facing DUI charges and other criminal charges. Take the first step toward gathering the information you need right now. Call 904-513-3905 or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule your free consultation.