In the American justice system, all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty. On a plea of not guilty, a formal trial will be held. As in all criminal trials, the state is required to prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" of the offense charged in the complaint before you can be found guilty by a judge or jury. You have the right to request either a trial before the judge or by a jury of your peers.
Your decision concerning which plea to enter is very important and should be carefully considered. If you plead guilty or nolo contendere in open court, you should be prepared to pay the fine and court costs.
Plea of Guilty
By a plea of guilty, you admit the act is prohibited by law, that you committed the act charged, and that you have no defense or excuse for your act. Before entering a plea of guilty you should understand the following:
- The state has the burden of proof of proving that you violated the law (the law does not require that you prove you did not violate the law);
- You have the right to hear the state's evidence and to require the state to prove you violated the law; and
- A plea of guilty may be used against you later in a civil suit if a traffic accident occurred when the citation was issued.
Plea of Nolo Contendere (No Contest)
A plea of nolo contendere means that you do not contest the state's charge against you. The court has the authority and will almost certainly find that you are guilty, unless you are eligible for and successfully complete a driver's safety course or court ordered probation. A plea of nolo contendere cannot be used against you in a subsequent civil suit of damages.
Plea of Not Guilty
A plea of not guilty means that you are informing the court that you deny guilt or that you have a defense in your case. The state must prove what it has charged against you. If you plead not guilty, you will need to decide whether to hire an attorney to represent you. An attorney is not required; however, you will be held to the same standards as an attorney. You have the right to have an attorney represent you in court. The court is not required to provide an attorney for you on a Class C misdemeanor charge, even if you are indigent.
This information is provided to help you understand court proceedings and to inform you of your rights and duties as a defendant so that you can be assured a fair and impartial trial. Nothing contained on this website is intended as legal advice.