Question: Can you explain the difference between not guilty and a nolo contendere in Oklahoma?
Answer: I’ll explain that in the terms of four types of pleas that a defendant can enter. The first is a not guilty plea. Now, and usually almost always as a matter of practice, my clients start off entering a not guilty plea. That may or may not change over time, over the course of the case, but they’ll usually start off not guilty. Meaning, “I’m pleading not guilty, I didn’t do this,” and the forcing the government to come forward with their evidence and prove that you did.
The second plea is a guilty plea which, obviously at that point the client is taking responsibility and either taking a guilty plea to the judge which would be a blind plea, or entering a guilty plea by agreement as some sort of an offer or plea bargain that you’ve worked out with the government.
Now, a no contest plea or a nolo contendere plea is also usually part of a plea bargain, although it doesn’t have to be. But there you are accepting a deal, just as you would with a guilty plea, but you’re not necessarily admitting guilt. You’re saying, “I don’t admit guilt, but for the purpose of accepting this plea offer, I am not contesting the evidence that the government has against me.” In other words you’re saying that if you went to trial, it is still possible that you could be found guilty, even though you’re not necessarily admitting guilt, you’re not professing your evidence either.
The fourth plea is not guilty by reason of former jeopardy. You rarely see this used. I have used it a couple of times. And that basically means that you are claiming that you have already been penalized or punished for this exact charge in some other proceeding and for them to continue going forward against you on this would be violating your right to double jeopardy.
And I will add one more, one more plea, this would be a fifth plea, it’s called an Alford plea. That came out of a Supreme Court case that came out of North Carolina years back. And that is a plea where you can actually profess your innocence to a charge while still accepting a plea deal.