One of the most frequent questions I hear from criminal defense clients is: "What is the difference between a plea of guilty and a plea of nolo contendre?" There is quite a bit of difference, actually, and you should speak with your criminal defense attorney to discuss which is the best plea option for your case.
Nolo Contendre comes from the latin meaning, "I do not wish to contend." This is where the term "no contest" comes from. By pleading nolo contendre you are neither admitting or disputing the charges, you are telling the Court that you do not wish to fight the charges. It is, in essence, a guilty plea and the sentence will be imposed as such. The difference between nolo contendre and an ordinary guilty plea is whether the offense will count as a conviction in the State of Rhode Island.
If you plead guilty to a crime, it is a conviction in the State of Rhode Island. Under certain circumstances, however, you can plead nolo contendre instead, and the crime might not be considered a conviction in the State of Rhode Island. This could be a crucial difference during a job hunt when the employer asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime.
Under Rhode Island General Law 12-18-3, if you plead nolo contendre and are placed on probation, so long as there is no violation of the probation, then the offense will not be considered a conviction for any purposes. This means that you can rightfully tell current or prospective employers that you have never been convicted of a crime, and evidence of that crime likely can not be used against you in subsequent legal proceedings.
Pleading nolo does not always guarantee that there will be no conviction. If the plea is for a crime of violence, or if the sentence includes time to serve in the ACI, then even a nolo plea will be a conviction in the State of Rhode Island. There are other circumstances and factors that can effect your decision whether to plead nolo or guilty, but it is definitely worth exploring with your criminal defense attorney. Many misdemeanors for non-violent crimes will be plead out with nolo contendre rather than a straight guilty plea.