Most people facing criminal charges assume that they can only plead either guilty or not guilty. However, the state of Tennessee also accepts the so-called nolo contendere plea.

Commonly referred to as a no-contest plea, the nolo contendere allows you to avoid court by accepting punishment as though you were guilty without actually affirming your guilt. Such a plea could help you with a future appeal if you secure new evidence or with an expungement of your criminal record at some point in the future if you qualify for one.

How does a nolo contendere plea work in criminal court?

A nolo contendere plea is essentially a guilty plea in the eyes of the court. You still face penalties and it will have a criminal conviction on your permanent record. However, such a plea can be particularly beneficial for those who worry about the implications of a potential civil suit related to the same circumstance.

For example, if you find yourself facing impaired driving charges related to a crash you allegedly caused while under the influence, a nolo contendere plea allows you to avoid the expense and embarrassment of a criminal trial without implicating yourself in a way that would almost ensure you would lose civil proceedings.

In order to enter a nolo contendere plea, you have to have the approval of the court. The court can deny such a request if they feel it violates their necessary pursuit of justice.

Tennessee does also allow for the use of the Alford plea. Although not specifically enshrined in state law the way the nolo contendere plea is, the Alford plea also remains an option. The plea gets its name from a Supreme Court case that affirmed the constitutionality of this specific form of plea.

When you enter an Alford plea, you essentially accept that the court has adequate evidence to convict you at this time but maintain your innocence. The Alford plea can sometimes have different implications than the no-contest plea.

Which option works better for your situation will vary drastically depending on a number of circumstances. Anyone intending to enter an unusual plea as a response to criminal proceedings would be wise to get professional advice before doing so.