California’s DUI laws can be complex and confusing. In this section, our attorneys break down the rules and explain the process.
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Because a “no contest” plea under California DUI law is essentially the same as a guilty plea, 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.
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.
Suppose you injured someone or damaged someone’s property due to your alleged criminal conduct, and that person files a civil lawsuit against you. In that case, 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.)
Penal Code 1018 PC allows defendants in California to withdraw their guilty or no contest plea upon a showing of good cause.1
Defendants can seek to withdraw a plea by filing a Motion to Withdraw a Plea either:
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.