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What’s the Difference Between ‘Nolo Contendere,’ ‘Nolle Prosequi,’ and ‘Guilty Plea?’

Going to court in Florida can be daunting. After all, the Sunshine State has 94 different courts, each with different personalities and oppositions you have to deal with.

If you have never been to court, you may think there are only guilty and not guilty pleas as options. As any good lawyer will tell you, these pleas only scratch the surface.

What are the biggest differences between guilty vs. no contest and the other types of pleas available? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.

Guilty vs. No Contest

Before we get into the biggest differences between these pleas, let’s go over what guilty and no-contest pleas share in common.

The main thing that these two have in common is that with both pleas, the defendant accepts a conviction and the consequences that go with it by the court. That’s about where the similarities end. Below, we spell out the main differences between these pleas.


First, what is the guilty plea? When you plead guilty, you fully admit to the crimes or civil charges against you. You are also owning up to your actions and accepting responsibility.

Someone might plead guilty if it’s the best way to negotiate in a plea bargain. For example, the plaintiff or prosecutor may offer the defendant a better deal with their punishment or charges if the defendant pleads ‘guilty’ to a charge. This saves everyone time and effort to pursue this case further and allows both sides to reach some sort of compromise.

If a defendant pleads ‘not guilty’ in a case, then the defendant can face more severe penalties if they are still ruled guilty. Because of this, they may plead guilty to prevent the possible penalties associated with the crime. It could reduce fines and keep them out of jail.

No Contest – nolo contendere

The other option that some people may choose to go with is a no-contest plea. Also known as “nolo contendere,” many people fail to understand the difference between nolo contendere vs. not guilty pleas, so here’s a quick explainer.

With the not guilty plea, you admit guilt to the charges against you. Comparably, with a nolo contendere plea, you are not admitting guilt. The only thing you are doing is accepting the penalties the court applies to you.

Let’s say that you got charged with a DUI. However, you are a public figure in your local area. As such, you are concerned about what this could do to your reputation, your social life, and even your career.

A no-contest plea here allows you to accept similar penalties without fully admitting that you did anything wrong. As a result, this can make it more difficult for someone to face civil penalties or consequences.

Some people may choose this as an alternative to going to trial. Considering that defendants lose 90% of cases that go to trial in civil lawsuits, they may look at it as a way to avoid losing a lot more down the road.

What Is Nolle Prosequi?

Nolle prosequi means “unwilling to pursue.” It refers to a formal notice from a plaintiff or prosecutor that they will be abandoning their civil or criminal lawsuit. However, it must be entered before the judge returns the verdict.

How a Lawyer Can Help With Guilty and No Contest Pleas

Now that you understand the differences between each of these pleas, it is time to discuss how a good lawyer comes into play for a guilty plea and a no-contest plea. Let’s take a look at what lawyers do for each plea.

Lawyers and Guilty Pleas

What can a lawyer do for someone who is pleading guilty to charges presented to them? The two biggest things are convincing the defendant that this is the best move for them as well as negotiating the penalties down.

Let’s go back to the DUI example. If a court wants to rule you guilty, you may be thinking about how unfair it is and that something went wrong during the process.

Two things can happen here. A lawyer can look at the case and tell a defendant that there is nothing more that they can do. They can also provide legal counsel and tell the defendant how much more severe the penalties can get if a defendant continues to pursue this.

Then, a lawyer can sit with a prosecutor and discuss terms. Once a lawyer can get a defendant on board with pleading guilty, it becomes easier to negotiate said penalties.

Examples can be that the defendant does not spend any time in jail rather than up to a year. Or their community hours are about 20% of the maximum amount allowed in the state.

In other words, the right lawyer helps keep penalties down to a minimum.

Lawyers and No Contest Pleas

One of the biggest things a lawyer can do in this position is to let a defendant know that they even have this option. The right legal counsel can explain the benefits of a public figure doing this rather than pleading guilty.

If a lawyer is set on this being the best move for their client, they can also use this as part of a negotiation tactic. Just like the above, they are eventually going to have to sit in the same room as a prosecutor and talk about this case.

They can talk to a prosecutor and get an idea of what the penalties might be for their client.

Also, a lawyer is more likely to see what the future consequences could be for either plea. If they can see a civil lawsuit coming after this case, they will know that a no-contest plea can help someone down the road.

Hire the Right Lawyer

These are the main things you need to know about a guilty vs. nolo contendere plea. With the former, you are admitting that you committed a crime or a wrong action. With the latter, you are merely accepting the consequences that would likely come from a guilty plea without admitting the actual guilt.

A good lawyer can help you decide which plea is right for your case. Get a free case review from us today.


RHINO Lawyers can help and guide you through a system molded by law enforcement, judges, and lawyers for decades. Having won cases for our clients in similar circumstances, our criminal defense team knows what it takes to fight on your behalf.

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