When a person is arrested for a crime, they have multiple options when selecting how to plea in their case. If a defendant believes they have a high probability of winning their case, they would likely prefer to plead not guilty to the criminal charges brought against them. However, some defendants may want to enter a plea of guilty or no contest for various reasons. If you were arrested and want to learn more about your pleading rights in a criminal case, contact an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer today. At Overson Law, PLLC, our firm understands the complexity of criminal proceedings, and we can help guide you through your criminal case. Overson Law is here to explain the difference between pleading guilty or no contest in Utah.
Guilty Pleas vs. No Contest Pleas
In Utah, there are five types of pleas that a defendant can use to respond to criminal charges against them. Outside of a plea of guilty or no contest, a defendant can also plead not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity, and guilty with a mental illness at the time of the offense.
When a defendant elects to plead not guilty to criminal charges, they must engage in a criminal trial to determine whether they will be convicted or acquitted of the charges against them. To obtain a conviction, the State of Utah must present evidence that proves that the defendant committed the crimes they were accused of beyond a reasonable doubt.
A guilty plea or a plea of no contest is an admission of guilt by the defendant that they committed the offenses in question. However, there are certain distinctions between pleading not guilty or no contest.
How Guilty Pleas Work
As mentioned, pleading guilty is an admission by the defendant that they are guilty of all offenses against them. Before making a guilty plea, it is important for a defendant to understand the gravity of the crimes charged. For example, if a defendant is facing a summary offense like a traffic ticket that will not result in jail time, they may enter a plea of guilty to simply avoid the hassle of going to court. However, if charged with a felony in Utah, or a high-grade misdemeanor, the defendant should know the maximum sentence that a judge could impose.
Many defendants plead guilty because of an arrangement made with the prosecutor of their case. This is also known as a plea bargain. Typically, the prosecutor would agree to lower the grade of the offense committed in exchange for a guilty plea from the defendant. For example, if a defendant committed a crime that was a class A misdemeanor, pleading guilty could drop the crime to a class B misdemeanor. As the difference in maximum sentences between class A and class B misdemeanors is 184 days in jail, it is understandable why a plea bargain would be desirable for a defendant.
Before entering a guilty plea, you should discuss your case with your Utah criminal defense lawyer thoroughly. Depending on the circumstances of your case, it may be wise to go to trial than to enter a guilty plea.
How No Contest Pleas Work
A plea of no contest, also referred to as nolo contendere, is slightly different from a guilty plea because the defendant does not challenge the criminal charges but also does not admit to committing a crime. A no contest plea does not stop the court from sentencing a defendant in accordance with sentencing guidelines, and a defendant may not even get a reduced sentence.
There is one important distinction between no contest pleas and guilty pleas. As a defendant did not admit guilt in a no contest plea, their criminal conviction cannot be used as evidence in a civil case. For example, if a defendant was charged with reckless driving in Utah and caused serious property damage, the owner of the property cannot use the defendant’s conviction as evidence in their personal injury case.
It is important to note that a nolo contendere plea must be approved by the court. This means that every defendant cannot plead no contest because they may fear their conviction being used to support a civil case. To determine whether a defendant can enter a plea of no contest, the court will weigh the interests of the parties and the state’s interest in justice.
It is difficult to determine which form of pleading is better as they each depend on the circumstances of a defendant’s case. That is why it is important to speak with an experienced attorney concerning your case.
Work with Our Trusted Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you or a family member need assistance with a criminal case, you should contact an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney today. Criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson possesses a wealth of experience litigating a wide range of criminal cases, and he is devoted to helping you pursue a desirable outcome to your case. To schedule a free legal consultation to discuss your case, contact Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287, or contact us online.