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What is a “No Contest Plea” in an Ohio DUI/OVI Case?


How Soon Do I Need a Lawyer After I Am Arrested for a DUI?

Ideally, it is in your best interest to consult with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible after you are arrested and charged with a DUI (OVI) violation.  One such reason to consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after your arrest is that your administrative license suspension may be appealed as early as at your initial appearance, but at the latest, must be appealed within 30 days of your initial appearance.  A defense lawyer can help prevent the loss of your driver’s license as well as aid in the restoration of your driving privileges.

Your arraignment will typically occur within a few days of your arrest and the filing of formal charges.  Your arraignment hearing is when you are able to enter your plea.  While you may only think you have two options, guilty or not guilty, there is one more plea option.  The third plea option is no contest.  It is crucial to consult with a lawyer to explain each plea option as well as the potential corresponding consequences of each plea option.

What Is a No Contest Plea?

In criminal cases, you generally think of two plea options: guilty or not guilty.  However, you may have heard of a no contest plea (also known as nolo contendere) on popular crime television shows, but those shows do not always make clear what this type of plea means.  Before you consider making this type of plea, it is important to gain an accurate understanding of what it means to plead no contest to your DUI (OVI) charge.  A no contest plea is “a criminal plea in which the defendant does not argue innocence but impliedly accepts as true the charges and seeks a sentence without an express finding of guilt.”  Nolo Contendere, Bouvier Law Dictionary.  Thus, if you plead no contest to your DUI charge, you do not explicitly state that you are guilty, but you accept the charges brought against you in order to obtain your sentence. Another way to think about it is, you are accepting the facts as true, but not that those facts form the basis of a violation. Pleading no contest is not the same as pleading guilty.

Should I Enter a No Contest Plea?

A no contest plea differs from a guilty plea in that if you are involved in other lawsuits regarding this incident, your plea cannot act as definitive evidence that you were under the influence.  Therefore, a no contest plea can be beneficial in cases where there are other potential lawsuits for damages from injuries stemming from the DUI (OVI).  Before entering a no contest plea, you should be aware of the potential penalties that the judge can impose on you during sentencing.

What Is the Result of a No Contest Plea?

As previously mentioned, a guilty plea can be used against you in a civil case to prove fault while a no contest plea does not act as proof of fault.  However, it is important to consider that with a no contest plea, just as with a guilty plea, you will submit yourself to a judge’s sentence without a chance to defend your case.  You should discuss your case with a defense lawyer before pleading no contest in order to make sure it is the right plea for you.

One result of a no contest plea is a DUI (OVI) conviction on your criminal record.  If a future employer runs a background check on you, he or she will be able to see your DUI (OVI) conviction even if you plead no contest.  An employer may judge a no contest plea differently than a guilty plea or an employer may judge the pleas exactly the same.  This example demonstrates the necessary considerations to make before entering a certain plea.

Can I Get a DUI (OVI) Conviction Off My Record?

The normal methods of concealing a criminal conviction from your record is expungement or sealing of records.  Expungement means “erasure or removal, particularly from a record.  Expungement means to wipe something out or to take it off a page, whether it is a person from a list, an entry from a record, or a memory from the mind.  In law, it is often used to describe the official deletion of a record, such as the removal of an entry of arrest from a record of the arrests in a jurisdiction.”  Expungement, Bouvier Law Dictionary.  A sealed record is a “record restricted from public access by law or order.  A sealed record is a record that is subject to a law or an order forbidding access by members of the public, or by any person, or by any person who does not meet criteria designated in the law or the order sealing the record.”  Sealed Record, Bouvier Law Dictionary.

However, in Ohio, you cannot have a DUI (OVI) conviction expunged or the record sealed.  In other words, your DUI (OVI) conviction will be a matter of public record forever even if you plead no contest.  For this reason, it is extremely important to contact a defense lawyer before you enter a plea because it could have a lasting effect on your life and reputation.

What is Ohio’s Habitual OVI Offenders Registry?

Not only can you not have your DUI (OVI) conviction expunged or your record sealed in Ohio, but something else to note with regard to conviction records is that the Ohio Department of Public Safety has created a database of individuals who have more than five OVI convictions that is updated monthly.  To be entered into Ohio’s Habitual OVI Offenders Registry, the individual must have received five OVI convictions within twenty years.  The database even includes juvenile offenses.

This information constitutes only a brief summary of what it means to plead no contest in a DUI (OVI) case.  This information is not intended to encompass all the intricacies of Ohio criminal/traffic laws but rather to provide you with the necessary information to consider your next step.  If you have more questions concerning a specific DUI charge, you should contact our office for an individual consultation.