Understanding the Nolo Plea in Georgia:
The Plea of Nolo Contendere, or only “Nolo” to most, is one of the most valuable opportunities for people charged with misdemeanor traffic offenses in Georgia. When used effectively, Georgia drivers can avoid receiving points on their motor vehicle record once every five years. However, this pleading is often misused and misunderstood. It is a way to close a criminal case without admitting guilt. However, you will be sentenced as if you did admit guilt. Some describe it as an intermediate plea between guilty and not guilty; however, that explanation is insufficient.
When to Use the Nolo Plea in Georgia (No Contest Plea):
If you have been cited for a traffic offense that may potentially be reported on your MVR, you should consider a using it. Such offenses include, but are not limited to, speeding, no proof of insurance, driving on a suspended license, failure to maintain lane, misdemeanor possession of marijuana, following too closely, and hit and run. You can only make a nolo plea once every five years, and you should always use it strategically. Additionally, the judge does not have to accept a nolo plea in any case.
One of its main benefits has to do with the civil liability associated with a traffic offense. The standard of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt;" and in a civil case, it is the far lower standard of a “preponderance of the evidence.” When a person pleads guilty or is found guilty after a trial, they have essentially been held responsible in any potential civil case because the standard of proof in a criminal case is so much higher.
When a person pleads nolo, his or her plea cannot be used as an admission of civil liability. In a case involving injuries to other parties or property damage, it can be used to avoid admissions that may be utilized in a civil case for damages compensation against the driver.
This all being said, choosing to make your own decision in a criminal case is akin to performing surgery on yourself, because many times there is a better solution. That is why you should first consult with a Georgia Traffic Ticket Attorney before choosing to plead no contest in court. Also, a nolo plea will be on your record for life. It is not a dismissal, as many people wrongly assume. The state can view a person's MVR for life, even though private citizens can only view a seven-year history.
Here are some examples where legal advice and representation can help and where entering a Nolo plea in Georgia may in fact either be wasted or ineffective:
- A person charged with less than 15 miles per hour under the posted speed limit should not waste their nolo contendere plea because unless they have a CDL, the offense will not be reported to the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
- All traffic offenses are reported against CDL drivers. As a result, it is usually ineffective. CDL drivers need a dismissal or reduction to a non-reportable offense.
- It rarely help drivers under the age of 21 and never help drivers under the age of 18. Nolo does not avoid a points assessment for any offense for drivers under 18 years of age. Underage drivers need their charge reduced to offenses that will not be reported to the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS). Only a Georgia Traffic Ticket Lawyer can help under-aged drivers avoid having a suspended driver's license.
- It can help people who are charged with possession of marijuana, but getting the case handled as a conditional discharge or through a diversion program is far more preferable. If handled correctly, the marijuana offense can be completely dismissed.
- It will help in cases involving no proof of insurance or driving with a suspended license. However, most Georgia Traffic Ticket Lawyers can get such first offense charges reduced to non-reportable offenses. A non-reportable offense is always better than entering a no contest plea.
- It can help in a hit and run case if charged under O.C.G.A. 40-6-270. However, many times our office can get first offense hit and run cases reduced to a traffic offense of O.C.G.A. 40-6-273 (the duty to report an accident). The difference is a potentially license-suspending criminal offense to a three-point traffic offense.
- It never helps in a Georgia Super Speeder case. The driver needs a reduction to a lower speed. Additionally, those charged with speeding slightly more than 15 miles per hour over the posted limit are far better off asking for a reduction in their speed than entering a no contest plea.
- No contest pleas are often misused on non-moving offenses that are never reported on a person's MVR. Such offenses include parking tickets, driving too fast for conditions, violating the ground rules of the roadway, headlight requirements, failure to renew registration, and speeding less than 15 miles per hour over the posted limit.
- It serves little purposes in cases involving disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and pedestrian under the influence. A far better option is for the case to be reduced to a city or county ordinance violation. Ordinance violations are never reported on a person's criminal or driving record.
- It is often wasted in a shoplifting case. Most courts offer a shoplifting diversion program for first offenders. These programs involve values clarification classes. Upon completion of a diversion program, the case is dismissed.
- In many municipal courts the nolo plea is wasted on minor traffic offenses. These courts will often allow a person to attend defensive driving school in exchange for a dismissal. Usually, the dismissal involves paying court costs in the amount similar to the fine associated with the offense
- For first offense cases of driving on a suspended license, many prosecutors will reduce the charge to driving without a license on person if the suspension is resolved. This is a far better outcome than a no contest plea.
The above-listed examples are only a small fraction of the situations where quality legal advice and effective representation in court may very often get a superior outcome than using a no contest plea on your own.
What About Your Insurance Company?
Another misunderstanding about using a nolo plea is that it will not be reported on your MVR, and as a result, it does not prevent your insurance company from raising your premium or canceling your coverage. Insurance companies keep their customers driving record on their. They can and do set whatever standards they want, and then they “rate” each customer accordingly. They do not release or share how they assess risk or decide with whom they will do business.
Can a Person Plead Nolo to a DUI in Georgia?
The short answer is “yes;” however, there is far more to discuss.
History of the “No Contest” Plea to DUI in Georgia:
Up until July 1997, the nolo contendere plea was the most common resolution of a first DUI offense. As long as it was the first offense, the accused had a BAC of less than .15 (or was a refusal), and the accused had not used a nolo plea in the past five years for some other offense; they could enter a nolo plea to their Georgia DUI.
All Nolo Pleas had to be accompanied by a petition reflecting the potential hardship faced by a conviction. Additionally, it was completely within the judge's discretion to accept a nolo plea. Some judges would not accept this plea in any circumstance, and the decision to reject a nolo plea is not subject to appeal to a higher court.
If the judge accepted it, the accused would not lose their driver's license and could honestly answer they did not contest their DUI charge. For some people, the fact that they were not technically convicted of the DUI often helped with employment because a person could say they were not convicted. However, legally a nolo plea was a conviction for purposes of enhanced punishment for a second offense.
The Georgia General Assembly changed the law in 1997, effectively ending the usefulness of the nolo plea in Georgia DUI cases. A defendant can still plead nolo, but they will face the same license consequences as if they had pleaded guilty.
Most Georgia judges will no longer accept a nolo plea to DUI; however, if your Georgia DUI Attorney can convince a court to accept the pleading, there is still one benefit. As mentioned above, a nolo plea does not admit civil liability. In the event a DUI driver injures another person or causes property damage, the nolo plea can be used to limit civil damages.
Finally, insofar as DUI is concerned, many people have borderline cases that could be defensible in court. However, some people are not willing to accept the risk associated with a jury trial. For these people, a nolo plea helps a person psychologically accept the outcome in their case.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a Georgia Traffic Offense or a DUI, call us. We are here to help you decide the best way to handle your case. Do not delay, call now.