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I sometimes hear these terms used in TV crime dramas and was wondering what exactly they meant. Is a no contest plea to a criminal charge the same thing as a guilty plea or is it different in some way?

If they do indeed mean the same thing, why are the two terms used?

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A "No Contest" plea (also known in Latin as "Nolo Contendere" and sometimes called an "Alford" plea) has the same legal effect in criminal court as a guilty plea. The result is that the defendant is giving up their right to a trial and allowing the court to convict.

The difference (as mentioned in the link above) is that in a no contest plea, the defendant is not required to formally allocute, or publicly admit guilt. This means that the defendant's admission is not available in a subsequent civil lawsuit for damages brought by the victim. The plea is also sometimes used when the defendant is not in danger of a civil lawsuit but wishes for personal reasons to refrain from publicly admitting their guilt while accepting a conviction and sentence.

This plea is sometimes called an "Alford" plea because it was affirmed in the case North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970).

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  • Does it make a difference to the evidence required? For example, does the prosecutor still have to provide evidence of your guilt if you say "no contest" with no evidence needed if you plead "guilty"?
    – gnasher729
    Jan 7 at 14:23
  • @gnasher729 typically, the prosecutor doesn't have to provide any more evidence of guilt than is necessary to bring criminal charges, which is typically "probable cause". Once that evidence has been presented, the defendant can either plead out or take it to trial. See this thread for one possible exception. Jan 7 at 21:49

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