Entering a Plea with the Court
Prior to entering a plea, it is of the utmost importance you understand how the pleas differ.
There are three possible pleas to a complaint:
- Nolo Contendere (No Contest)
- Not Guilty
Plea of Guilty
By a plea of guilty, you admit that the act is prohibited by law, that you committed the act charged, and that you have no defense or excuse for your act. Before entering your plea of guilty, however, you should understand the following:
- The state has the burden of proving that you violated the law (the law does not require that you prove you did not violate the law);
- You have the right to hear the State's evidence and to require the State to prove you violated the law; and
- A plea of guilty may be used against you later in a civil suit if there was a traffic accident. For example, another party can say you were at fault or responsible for the accident because you pled guilty to the traffic charge.
Plea of Nolo Contendere
The term nolo contendere comes directly from the Latin phrase meaning "no contest." In municipal courts, you will also hear simply "nolo" or "no contest," which means the very same thing.
A plea of nolo contendere means that you do not contest the State's charge against you. You will be found guilty unless you are eligible and successfully complete a driving safety course or deferred adjudication.
A plea of nolo contendere cannot be used against you in a subsequent civil suit for damages should one arise from the violation with which you were charged.
Plea of Not Guilty
A plea of not guilty means that you are informing the Court that you deny guilt, or that you have a defense in your case, and that the State must prove what it has charged against you. If you plead not guilty, a date will be set for your Pre-trial, and you will need to decide whether to hire an attorney to represent you.
If a settlement is not reached at Pre-trial and a trial is scheduled, as in all criminal trials, the State is required to prove the guilt of the defendant "beyond a reasonable doubt" of the offense charged in the complaint before a defendant can be found guilty by a judge or jury.
All persons are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Your decision concerning which plea to enter is very important. Please consider each plea carefully before making a decision. If you plead guilty, or nolo contendere, in open court, you should be prepared to pay the fine and court costs.