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Alternative Pleas: No Contest, Conditional, and Alford

When you think of entering a plea in a criminal case, you may only think of “guilty” and “not guilty” pleas. Depending on the state you live in, however, you may have more ways to plead.

Keep reading to find out what they are.

No Contest Pleas

A no contest or “nolo contendere” plea can help you make a plea bargain while protecting your rights in civil court. Should a civil lawsuit arise from the same situation as your criminal charges, the plaintiff will not be able to use your plea as evidence of your liability. In some states, no contest pleas can still be brought into evidence in civil court, especially in cases involving felonies.

To better understand this concept, we can look at an example. If you are charged with a DUI after getting into a car accident with alcohol in your system, and you plead nolo contendere, the driver of the other vehicle cannot use your plea to establish liability in a personal injury case. Nevertheless, if someone dies in that accident, your nolo contendere plea may be admissible, as vehicular homicide is a felony in most states.

Within the criminal court system, a no-contest plea functions similarly to a guilty plea. If you plead no contest, you will still be convicted and suffer the same consequences as a defendant who enters a guilty plea.

Conditional Pleas

When you are ready to plead guilty or no contest but you disagree with certain aspects of your trial, you may choose to enter a conditional plea. Entering a conditional plea allows you to reserve your right to have an appeals court give a second opinion on one or more of the key issues in your case. The prosecution and the trial judge you disagree with must agree to a conditional plea.

If an appeals court decides the trial judge was wrong, you may change your plea. For example, consider a defendant charged with drug possession during a routine traffic stop. If the police officers searched the defendant’s car without probable cause, the defendant can ask for a motion to suppress evidence. Should this motion be denied, the defendant can appeal. Meanwhile, they can make a conditional plea. If the appeals court grants a motion to suppress, the defendant can change their plea.

Alford Pleas

Some states, including Maryland, allow Alford pleas. Under an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the state has enough evidence for a conviction. An Alford plea may be an option for you if you feel confident in your innocence, but you don’t want to run the risk of going to trial.

The Alford plea was established in the United States Supreme Court case of North Carolina v. Alford (1970). Alford pleaded guilty to enter into a plea bargain and avoid a death sentence, but he maintained that he was innocent until he died in prison in 1975.

Choosing the Right Plea

You may have noticed that all these pleas are similar, and many of them result in the same consequences as a guilty plea. No contest pleas, conditional pleas, and Alford pleas may come into play during plea bargains, where you enter some sort of plea to avoid the risk trial and/or of a longer sentence.

To engage in plea bargaining, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side.

For help deciding which plea is best for your situation, call the Law Office of Robert Castro, P.A. at (301) 705-5137 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.

We have been helping clients like you since 1993, and we look forward to helping you find the best possible outcome – we will be in touch within 24 hours of your call or online message.