No Contest

The legal term no contest is a plea made by a defendant in court when he does not contest a particular criminal charge against him. While a no contest plea is not necessarily an admission of guilt, it is treated as such by the court, and the defendant is sentenced as though he has been convicted of the crime.

A no contest plea is most often used as part of a plea bargain. It may be helpful in a situation in which the defendant may face a civil lawsuit related to the criminal charge, as a plea of no contest cannot be used as an admission of fault or guilt in a civil action. To explore this concept, consider the following no contest definition.

Definition of No Contest


  1. A defendant’s pleading in a criminal case that does not admit guilt, yet it subjects him to the punishment as though a guilty plea was made.


1870-75            Latin  (I am unwilling to contend)

What is a No Contest Plea

When an individual is charged with a criminal act, he must enter a plea with the court of either not guilty, guilty, or no contest. No contest is a plea made when the defendant does not want to admit guilt, yet does not dispute the charges. Often times, a no contest plea will be used in a plea bargaining deal. In such a case, the defendant does not admit guilt, but is willing to accept sentencing as agreed with the prosecutor, as though a guilty plea had been entered. The defendant is frequently offered lesser charges, or a lesser sentence if he pleads no contest or guilty, as this saves time and money that would be needed for a full trial.

Nolo Contendere

Nolo Contendere is the original Latin term on which the no contest is based, and it translates as, “I do not wish to contend.” The term may be used interchangeably with no contest. A nolo contendere plea is used in criminal cases, though entering such a plea is not a Constitutional right. State and federal laws vary in regards to please of nolo contendere, and all have restrictions regarding its use.

For instance, in a federal court hearing, a plea of nolo contendere can only be entered if the court consents. Before the court will accept such a plea, it must consider the views of each party, as well as whether the plea is in the best interest in the administration of justice.

No Contest vs. Guilty Plea

Pleading guilty in a court of law means that the defendant admits the charges against them. When a guilty plea is entered, the defendant has no defense for his actions and the court moves forward with the punishment phase. A guilty plea can be used at a later time if the victim decides to file a civil lawsuit against the defendant, as he has already admitted liability for his actions.

When pleading no contest, the defendant does not admit guilt, nor claim innocence, but accepts whatever punishment the court hands down. Before accepting a no contest plea, the judge usually asks questions of the defendant to make sure he understands the ramifications of such a plea. Unlike a guilty plea, a plea of no contest cannot be used as an admission of liability for the actions that led to the criminal charges for the purposes of a civil lawsuit.

Real Life No Contest Plea

Slava Voynov, a professional hockey player for the Los Angeles Kings, faced a felony criminal charge for a 2014 domestic violence even in which his wife was injured. Voynov’s wife claimed the hockey player shoved her into a television, causing a laceration that required stitches, and that he kicked, punched, and choked her. She later refused to cooperate with prosecutors, leading them to engage in plea bargaining with Voynov.

In exchange for a no contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of domestic abuse, Voynov was ordered to pay a fine of $700 and serve 90 days in jail, followed by 3 years of probation. Voynov’s sentence also included an order to attend a 52-week domestic violence program, and provide 98 hours of community service. Additionally, the National Hockey League suspended Voynov indefinitely, pending their own investigation into the situation, and the Russian hockey player may face immigration issues.

Because Voynov did not admit guilt to the charges, the outcome to issues regarding immigration, as well as his hockey contract, may hinge on the ability to prove his guilt during a civil lawsuit.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Criminal Act – An act committed by an individual that is in violation of the law, or that poses a threat to the public.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Hearing – A proceeding before the court at which an issue of fact or law is heard, evidence presented, and a decision made.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Lesser Charges – A lesser charge, or included offense, shares some elements of the main charge or greater criminal offense. For example, trespassing is a lesser included offense of burglary, aggravated sexual assault is a lesser included offense of rape, and manslaughter is a lesser included offense of murder.
  • Plea Bargain – The making of an agreement between a criminal defendant and the prosecutor that allows the defendant to plead guilty, or no contest, to a lesser charge, thereby avoiding the risk of a more severe sentence.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.

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