Sunday, April 11, 2010
What Exactly Does a "No Contest" Plea Mean?
The Ohio Supreme Court has recently made it clear that if a defendant enters a "no contest" plea in a criminal case (and is found guilty as almost all are after they enter the plea), the fact that the defendant entered that plea (and the resulting conviction) cannot be used in any subsequent civil case. No contest pleas are often entered by defendants in criminal cases rather than "guilty" pleas. These "no contest" pleas are seen by many defendants as a softer version of a guilty plea, and some courts had held that Ohio law also barred the use of a "no contest" plea in a subsequent civil action involving the defendant (for example, where the defendant is sued for the damage the defendant did in his criminal actions). In Elevators Mut. Ins. Co. v. J. Patrick O’Flaherty’s, Inc., the Ohio Supreme Court made it clear once and for all that "no contest" pleas cannot be used in subsequent civil cases involving the same activity by the defendant. The Court reasoned that: "“The purpose behind the inadmissibility of no contest pleas in subsequent proceedings is to encourage plea bargaining as a means of resolving criminal cases by removing any civil consequences of the plea. ... The rule also protects the traditional characteristic of the no contest plea, which is to avoid the admission of guilt. The prohibition against admitting evidence of no contest pleas was intended generally to apply to a civil suit by the victim of the crime against the defendant for injuries resulting from the criminal acts underlying the plea." This decision resolved a number of conflicting decisions for the lower courts of appeals. We assume we will see much more use of the no "contest plea" in the future.