Because a “no contest” plea under California DUI law is essentially the same as a guilty plea…given that both result in a sentence…you may not give much thought to which plea to enter if you are about to be convicted of misdemeanor driving under the influence. But if your DUI involved any other cars, passengers, pedestrians, or property, which plea you enter can make a world of difference.
This is because a California “no contest” plea will not automatically subject you to liability in the event a civil lawsuit arises. A guilty plea will. This is the major difference between the two pleas.
If you injured someone or damaged someone's property as a result of your alleged criminal conduct…and that person files a civil lawsuit against you…a guilty plea is admissible as evidence against you in the civil suit. And because the burden of proof is much higher in a criminal case than in a civil case, that guilty plea is enough to find you civilly liable.
If, on the other hand, you entered a California “no contest” plea, the civil suit would proceed as if there was no criminal case against you. The burden would be on the plaintiff (that is, the person suing you) to prove that you were responsible for the alleged injuries/damages.
A word to the wise… anytime you enter anything other than a “not guilty” plea to a California misdemeanor charge, make sure it's a “no contest” plea. It can't hurt, and it certainly can help. (Refer to our article, What to expect from a California DUI jury trial.)