No Contest Pleas vs. Guilty Pleas: What Is the Difference?

If you have been charged with a crime and must appear in court, one of the most important issues to discuss with your lawyer is what kind of plea you plan to enter at your arraignment. Your plea is a formal response to your charges. While most people are familiar with “guilty” and “not guilty” as possible responses, there is a lesser-known type of plea, known as “nolo contendere” or “no contest.”

Facing a criminal charge in California is a serious issue that may come with severe, potentially lifelong consequences. Therefore, it is crucial to partner with an attorney you can trust to prioritize your interests and defend your case. When you work with Aron Law Firm, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will help you evaluate your legal options and choose the best plea bargain for your specific circumstances.

What You Should Know About Pleas in California

According to California Penal Code 1016, there are three ways a defendant may plea: guilty, not guilty, and no contest.


A guilty plea means that the individual acknowledges their wrongdoing and is willing to accept whatever penalty the court imposes. Defendants seldom plead guilty without first reaching an agreement with the prosecution or getting some kind of assurance from the government.

In some cases, the defendant may give up going to trial in favor of a conviction of a lesser offense. You should speak to an attorney before deciding whether or not to plead guilty.

Not Guilty

A not-guilty plea means that the defendant does not admit to having committed an offense. Although it is not necessarily a denial of guilt, a claim of innocence requires the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you have questions about the ramifications of a not-guilty plea under California law or would like to discuss your particular case with one of our California criminal defense attorneys in Santa Barbara, CA, please do not hesitate to contact our firm.

No Contest (Nolo Contendere)

Nolo contendere is a phrase that comes from the Latin term “I do not wish to contend.” It means that you are neither admitting nor denying guilt in the case. In other words, you do not admit that you did anything wrong but also do not dispute that the facts laid out by the prosecution are true. This may be used as an alternative to pleading guilty or not guilty in court.

Pleading no contest means that a defendant does not admit guilt for the crime, but the court may determine sentencing. For many defendants, the main benefit of a no-contest plea is that it typically cannot be used as an admission of fault in related civil cases.

Before pleading no contest in California, a judge must accept your plea, ensure that you understand that the court thereby finds you guilty, and ensure that you are voluntarily entering your plea as opposed to being coerced or misled into doing so. Your constitutional rights are generally waived in a written form called a Tahl waiver. Once these requirements have been fulfilled, you may proceed to a sentencing hearing where the judge imposes your sentence.

Seek Qualified Legal Counsel Before Admitting Guilt or Pleading No Contest in California

Aron Law Firm criminal defense lawyers are devoted to guarding the rights of Californians accused of various crimes. You can count on our qualified team to investigate your case in detail, build a robust defense that protects your interests, and advise you on the most favorable course of action for your particular situation. We take a client-centered approach to make the legal process as painless as possible.

Schedule a consultation today to speak with one of our attorneys about no-contest or other pleas. Call (805) 618-1768 or complete our convenient contact form to learn more.

William M. Aron


William M. Aron

May 19, 2023

Former Deputy District Attorney William Aron received his Juris Doctorate from the Duke School of Law and has amassed 20 years of experience practicing law. Attorney Aron dedicates his practice to defending the accused, and is devoted to keeping his clients out of prison.