"No Contest" Pleas in Nevada

"No contest" pleas in Nevada are an alternative to guilty pleas. As with guilty pleas, defendants who plead "no content" do not fight the charges. But unlike guilty pleas, no contest pleas are not an admission of guilt.

Defendants in Nevada typically plead "no contest" as part of a plea bargain. However the charges could still be reduced or dismissed depending on the terms of the plea bargain. 

Below our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about "no contest" pleas in Nevada Click on a topic to go to that section.

Also see our articles on submittals and stays of adjudication.

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1. What is a "no contest" plea?

A "no contest" plea has the following four components:

  1. The defendant gives up his/her right to a trial;
  2. The defendant does not admit that he/she committed any crime;
  3. The defendant does admit that there probably is enough evidence to prove him/her guilty if there were a trial.
  4. The judge adjudicates the defendant guilty.

Another name for "no contest" in Nevada is "nolo contendere." The only difference between a "no contest" plea and a "guilty" plea is that the defendant admits no guilt in a "no contest plea." In both cases though, the defendant will get convicted.

In short, a "no contest" plea is a way for defendants to take a plea and avoid a trial without admitting guilt.1

2. Can I plead "no contest" as part of a plea bargain?

Yes. In many cases, the prosecution and defense attorney negotiate a settlement where the defendant may plead "no contest" to reduced charges with lesser penalties.

Depending on the terms of the plea agreement, the charges could ultimately be reduced or dismissed once the defendant completes the sentencing terms (such as paying fines and attending classes).

Nearly everyone who is charged with a crime has the option of pleading no contest. Only in rare occasions do judges prohibit a defendant from pleading "no contest."2

3. What are the advantages of pleading "no contest"?

There are three main advantages to taking a "no contest" plea:

  1. No admission of guilt.  The defendant admits no guilt in a "no contest" plea. Even though the judge will eventually adjudicate the defendant guilty, there is no record of the defendant admitting to committing the crime. Therefore, pleading "no contest" is a way for a defendant to maintain his/her innocence while accepting the consequences of a conviction.
  2. No evidence.  No contest" pleas may not be used as evidence against the defendant in a civil court of law. So for example if the defendant gets sued in a personal injury claim, the "no contest" plea cannot come back to haunt him/her.3
  3. Predictability.  Plea bargains give the defendant some control over the outcome of the case. Typically the prosecution will agree to lesser charges and penalties in exchange for the defendant forgoing a trial. So by taking a plea, the defendant is avoiding the risk of getting convicted and trial and getting a maximum sentence. (Note that judges have the power to disregard plea deals and impose a maximum sentence. In practice though, judges usually rubber stamp any settlements the defendant negotiated with the prosecution.)

Another advantage is purely aesthetic: Pleading "no contest" simply sound nicer and less stigmatizing than pleading guilty.

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4. What are the disadvantages of pleading "no contest"?

The main disadvantage of taking any plea is that the defendant is ensuring that he/she will get a conviction. This is because the defendant is giving up his/her right to a trial. Therefore, there is no opportunity for the court to return a "not guilty" verdict.

5. When can I plead "no contest"?

At almost anytime during the life of a criminal case.

The first occasion a defendant has the opportunity to enter a "no contest" plea is during the arraignment. (An arraignment is when the court formally brings charges against the defendant.) Note that most defendants plead "not guilty" at the arraignment but change their plea to "guilty" or "no contest" later in the court process.

The final opportunity a defendant may take a plea is during the trial. But once the trial ends, the defendant may no longer enter a plea.

6. What happens after I plead "no contest" in Nevada?

After a defendant enters a plea, the judge may conduct a sentencing hearing. In more minor cases, the judge may impose a sentence right away. In more serious cases, the judge may schedule the hearing for a few weeks later to give the defense and prosecution time to prepare.

7. Can I take back a "no contest" plea in Nevada?

It is possible but unlikely.

If a defendant regrets taking a plea, he/she may file a motion to withdraw a plea anytime prior to sentencing. But judges only grant motions to withdraw pleas when the defendant was truly wronged or mislead when entering the plea.  

Legitimate grounds for withdrawing a plea in Nevada are:

  • The attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel.
  • The plea was not made knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently.
  • The defendant was not informed that probation may be unavailable.
  • The interpreter/translator provided ineffective assistance.
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If sentencing has already occurred, the defendant may not file a motion to withdraw a plea. Instead, he/she may pursue other forms of post-conviction relief such as habeas corpus.4

8. What are the alternatives to pleading "no contest"?

Defendants may take the following pleas:

  • Not guilty. A "not guilty" plea is when the defendant maintains he/she is innocent of the charges. If a defendant maintains a "not guilty" plea, the case will ultimately go to trial.
  • Guilty. A "guilty" plea is when a defendant admits his/her guilt of the charge(s) alleged. After a "guilty" plea, the judge will impose a sentence. This sentence will usually be less than if the defendant went through with trial and was then found guilty.
  • Guilty but mentally ill.  Like it sounds, a "guilty but mentally ill" plea is when the defendant admits wrongdoing but blames it on mental illness. If a judge accepts a plea of "guilty but mentally ill," the defendant may be sent to a mental institution instead of prison.
  • Not guilty by reason of insanity. This plea must be made no less than 21 days before the scheduled trial. If the court accepts this plea, the judge may commit him/her to a psychiatric facility depending on the case.

In rare cases, defendants may defiantly refuse to plea at all at the arraignment. In these cases, the judge will adjudicate the defendant guilty.5

9. Should I plead "no contest" if I am innocent?

Only as a last resort.

No defense attorney wants to see a defendant take a plea when he/she did nothing wrong. Indeed, the defense attorney's job is to show the prosecutors that they have no case.

In some cases though, the defendant is in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the evidence might cause a reasonable jury to find a defendant guilty even if he/she is innocent. In these cases, a defendant might consider taking a "no contest" plea to avoid going to trial and risking a guilty verdict.

10. Should I plead "no contest" if I am guilty?

Not necessarily. Depending on the case, the defense attorney may be able to persuade the D.A. to reduce or dismiss the charges. Or it may be possible to win an acquittal at trial...

Perhaps the state has insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Or perhaps the police conducted an illegal search, and the defense attorney can ask the judge to disregard any incriminating evidence. Just because a person is arrested does not guarantee he/she will be convicted.

In short, pleading "no contest" might be the best option. But a defense attorney should explore all other options first before a defendant considers taking a plea.

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