What happens when a defendant enters a no contest plea in a criminal case?
This is meant to be general information for people wanting to learn what may happen in a criminal case in Florida when a defendant decides to resolve their criminal case and change their plea from one of “not guilty” to one of “no contest.”
Please be aware, every case is different. If you are wondering about what may happen in your criminal case, it is extremely important that you speak to a criminal defense attorney who can tell you what to expect given the unique facts of your case.
What is a plea colloquy?
When a defendant enters a no contest plea, the judge will begin a “plea colloquy.” A plea colloquy consists of various questions that the judge will ask a defendant in order to determine whether the plea is freely and voluntarily given.
The judge will ask the defendant very specific questions; generally, these can be answered with a “yes” or “no,” however the defendant is welcome to explain an answer if necessary.
Some things the judge may ask at a plea colloquy are:
Is this what you want to do?
Has anyone promised you anything in exchange for your plea today?
Are you currently under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medications that may affect you today?
Are you satisfied with the representation of your attorney?
Do you understand that you have the right to plead not guilty, the right to be tried by a jury, the right to call witnesses on your behalf, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against you, and the right testify, or not testify, at trial?
Do you understand that by entering a plea you are waiving your right to have a trial?
The defendant is sentenced
After the judge determines that the plea was freely and voluntarily given, the judge will “accept the plea” and will then usually begin to sentence the defendant. In some cases, a defendant can request to be sentenced at a later date (called a sentencing hearing).
At the sentencing the judge will either adjudicate the defendant guilty, or withhold adjudication. The judge will then “pronounce the sentence,” which means the judge will formally announce on the record what the defendant’s sentence will be.
What is a negotiated plea?
A negotiated plea is a plea where the state prosecutor and the defense attorney have agreed as to what the punishment of the defendant will be. Many judges will honor this agreement. However, be aware that the judge is not obligated to honor it. If a judge does not like the terms of a negotiated plea, the judge may refuse to accept it all together, or only accept it if certain things are changed or conditions are added.
What is an open plea?
If the prosecutor and defense attorney cannot agree as to what the defendant’s punishment will be, then the defendant can ask the judge to sentence the defendant in what is referred to as “entering an open plea.” At an open plea, a judge can technically sentence the defendant to whatever the judge wants (within the confines of the law), up to the maximum punishment.
However, the judge also may choose to undercut the prosecutor and sentence the defendant to less than what the prosecutor is asking for. The decision to open plea is oftentimes a very difficult one. The defendant should discuss the case in detail with the attorney before deciding whether to open plea. For more information regarding open pleas, please see our post here where we discuss the topic in depth.
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