If you have ever been arrested for a crime and taken before a judge, you know that you are attending an arraignment hearing. An arraignment hearing is where you (and your attorney if you have retained one) enter a plea. We have all seen in the movies where the defendant stands up before the Court and pleads ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ for the crime committed. In real life, everyone needs to plea not guilty at this time because if you pled guilty, a judge would sentence you immediately and you may not know what the judge’s sentence will be. At a later time, after the evidence is reviewed, you may choose to change your plea to nolo contendere (no contest) or guilty. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss what happens when you plead guilty or nolo contendere. Additionally, we will explain how a nolle prosequi could affect your status.
1) Pleading Guilty
This option is fairly obvious. When pleading guilty to the crime you are being charged, you are admitting that you committed the crime. Often times, a guilty plea comes about when the prosecution offers a plea deal for a better sentence if you plead guilty to the charges. Remember from the above paragraph you do not plead guilty at arraignment and you should have the evidence reviewed prior to changing your plea to guilty.
For example, let’s say you are charged with battery as a 1st degree misdemeanor and the evidence against you is clear. The maximum penalty for a 1st degree misdemeanor conviction is $1,000 and one year of jail time. The prosecution could come to you or your attorney and offer a plea deal for a guilty plea at a $500 fine and one year of probation. Less fines and probation over jail time would be appealing for many, so it may be the best route to take in your situation. When the judge asks, how do you plead, you would plead guilty. The prosecution and your defense attorney would then tell the judge both sides have agreed to a guilty plea and a lesser than maximum sentence which the judge would then order.
2) Nolo Contendere
Nolo Contendere is Latin for “I do not wish to contend.” This means you are entering a no contest plea. When entering no contest, you are not contesting the charges brought against you, but you are also not admitting guilt or innocence. Instead, you are not admitting to the crimes, but the court can issue you a punishment for the charges brought against you. Your record would show ‘nolo contendere’ and not a guilty record. In addition, it is helpful if you are being sued for a criminal act, such as reckless driving and the injured party wants to sue you for damages. If you enter a guilty plea, the opposing attorney can use the guilty plea as evidence against you. However, if you plea nolo contendere, it is not an admission of guilt and won’t be as easily used against you.
So, let’s keep with the battery example above. When the judge asks how you plead, you would plead a no contest plea. Here, you are NOT admitting guilt or innocence to the battery, but you do not want to take the case any further into the process and will accept any punishment the Court deems proper. For our example, the judge may decide that because your record is clean, that you will serve 6 months in jail and pay a $1,000 fine. Because you are not contesting the plea, you must accept the penalties served.
3) Nolle Prosequi
Nolle prosequi is the Latin phrase for ‘will no longer prosecute.’ It is also often referenced as ‘nolle pros.’ This means the prosecutor will not proceed in taking further action on your criminal charges after they have been filed. This typically occurs when there isn’t any or very little evidence to take the case further and the prosecution’s argument against you is lacking in substance. This results in a case dismissal and the charges dropped. This is a formal notice of abandonment by the prosecutor’s office. The Court may also submit an Order to not prosecute, which will result in a Nolle Prosequi.
Keeping with the battery example above, when the judge asks how you plead to the 1st degree misdemeanor battery charge, you plead not guilty. A few months into the case, the alleged victim comes forward and files a request stating they no longer wish to prosecute the charge. Before the case goes to trial, the prosecution accepts the request as valid. Therefore, they file a Nolle Prosequi with the Court, and when accepted, will drop the battery charge.
All options above could be relevant to a criminal case you may have. It is vital to discuss the arraignment hearing and your best options with a criminal defense attorney; it could mean the difference between prison time, a small fine, or no penalties and a clean record. Call the Law Office of Adams & Luka, P.A. today for your free consultation.