Nolo Contendre and Alford Pleas for DUI Cases in Virginia
You may have heard of a nolo contendre plea before, either on television or in real life. You may have even heard of an Alford Plea, though it is unlikely. The question is, then, are these pleas a legal strategy that is allowed in Virginia and, if so, are they something you should consider if you have been charged with DUI?
A nolo contendre plea, usually shortened to nolo, simply means that you agree to be punished for the charges that have been brought against you and not argue your innocence. It is named from a Latin phrase that means “I will not contest it” and is allowed in Virginia cases. To the layperson, however, it sounds an awful lot like a guilty plea. That is probably because, for all intents and purposes, it is exactly the same as a guilty plea! Functionally, and especially for the purposes of the criminal proceeding, they are identical. The only major difference is that a nolo plea can help you in potential civil litigation.
If a nolo plea has the same effect as a guilty plea, you may be asking yourself why anyone would ever use it? That is a good question and frankly, there are very few circumstances where an experienced criminal defense attorney would ever advise a client to use a nolo plea. Many defendants appear to be misinformed about the operation of a nolo plea. Specifically, the following is generally true about a nolo plea:
It results in a criminal conviction on your record.
A conviction from a nolo plea will be on your record the rest of your life.
Nolo pleas are not expunged from your record as a matter of course.
A nolo plea does not obligate the court to be lenient in determining your punishment.
The only positive aspect of a nolo plea is that it cannot be used against you in a subsequent suit against a defendant related to the same issue. For example, if you are in a DUI injury accident and plead nolo, the conviction cannot be used in court if the accident victim chooses to sue you whereas a straight guilty plea can be used by a plaintiff. Obviously, in very specific circumstances, a nolo plea can be useful, but a regular DUI is not one of them.
The legal doctrine known as an Alford Plea comes from a 1970 Supreme Court case that originated in North Carolina. In short, an Alford Plea means that the defendant is agreeing to be found guilty of the crime charged in light of overwhelming evidence while still maintaining his or her innocence. Virginia allows Alford Pleas but the Virginia Court of Appeals has placed an additional requirement before allowing a court to accept an Alford Plea. To make sure an innocent person is not pleading guilty to something they have not done, a factual basis for proving guilt must be established. Regardless, the end result of an Alford plea is the same as a nolo plea – a permanent conviction on your record.
It seems many people have a belief that pleading nolo or Alford just allows them to stroll into the courthouse, plead, leave, and go back to the way things were. Unfortunately, they are dead wrong. You need to be represented by a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney to help you sort out the proper way to proceed in a DUI case. Your rights and even your future are on the line. Northern Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer Jad Sarsour has years of experience in defending DUI cases in Northern Virginia and has thousands of satisfied clients. Give him a call today at (571) 316-2639 to set up your initial consultation today. Put his expertise to work for you to help protect your rights.