What is a nolo contendere plea and how can it help me in traffic cases?
Many people know you can use a nolo plea to avoid points on your Georgia driver’s license. But did you also know you can use it to avoid a suspension?
Nolo contendere means no contest in English. In court, entering a nolo plea is saying that you don’t want to admit you committed a violation, but you also don’t want to fight it. You want to enter a plea and have the court determine the sentence (if any) without having a trial.
You have a right to enter such a plea, but it is up to the judge if the nolo plea will be accepted. In traffic cases, a nolo plea can help you avoid points or a suspension of your driver’s license. Here’s how it works:
In Georgia, if you plead guilty or are convicted after a trial of certain traffic violations, points can be placed on your license or it can be suspended. Using a nolo plea can allow you to avoid these consequences once every five years. The look-back period is calculated from dates of arrest or citation on cases where a disposition is entered on your traffic history.
There are four categories of offenses in which you can use a nolo plea to prevent points or a suspension. They are:
- Driving while License Suspended, OCGA §40-5-121, to avoid a suspension.
- Driving without Insurance, OCGA §40-6-10, to avoid a suspension.
- Driving with Suspended Registration, OCGA §40-6-15, to avoid a suspension.
- Points—to avoid points on any violation of the Uniform Rules of the Road (OCGA §40-6-1, et. seq., that is any violation in Chapter 6 of the Title 40 Motor Vehicle Code) which places points on your license.
A nolo plea can be used once every five years in each category. Let’s assume you have no traffic history. Imagine you are stopped in January for running a stop sign, which is a three point violation of the Uniform Rules of the Road. When you go to court, you can use a nolo plea to avoid the points.
The next month if you forget to pay your insurance, get stopped and charged with no insurance, you can use a nolo plea again, only this time to avoid the suspension of your license.
Then again, imagine you are driving a few weeks later. You haven’t gotten insurance yet, and just found our your tag was suspended as a result of your failure to maintain insurance. You drive anyway, and get stopped speeding. While talking to the cop, you say, “I knew my tag was suspended, but I had to get to work, so I drove anyway.” As a result of this statement, the State charges you with a suspended registration violation. You could use a nolo plea to avoid an additional license suspension.
Finally, imagine that instead of going to court on one of these cases, you fail to appear. By operation of law, your driver’s license is suspended. You receive notice of the suspension, drive anyway, and get stopped by the cops. If they charge you with driving on a suspended license, you could use a nolo plea again to avoid a suspension.
Whether you can use a nolo plea is still always within the court’s discretion, meaning the judge gets to decide if you can use it or not. This is true regardless of how the Department of Driver Services will treat the nolo disposition when it is reported to them. What this means is that you always have a right to enter a nolo plea. Whether it helps you avoid a consequence with the Department of Driver Services is dependent on your history.
To illustrate this, imagine that later this same year, you are stopped again for speeding 25 miles over the speed limit. You believe you weren’t going as fast as the officer claims. You go to court, and tell the judge you don’t want to admit you were speeding, but you just don’t have the time to go through the process of a trial. The judge is sympathetic, and allows you to enter a nolo plea. When the disposition is reported to the Department of Driver Services, it will be treated as a guilty plea, and points will be placed on your license. Why? Because you already used your nolo plea earlier in the same year to avoid points.
Many traffic courts require you to be present in court to enter a nolo plea, and almost all require you to appear on any offense where your driver’s license can be suspended. A lawyer can help you figure out what is in your best interests when deciding which type of plea to make, after they have had the chance to review your history and the facts and circumstances of your case.
The Traffic Tip is only for informational and educational purposes. It is not intended to be legal advice. If you need help with a legal matter, you should contact a licensed lawyer in your state who understands the facts and circumstances of your particular case and the law that applies.
Check out my next Traffic Tip on Thursday, October 19, 2017: “The Little Known No Points Plea.”