All criminal trials eventually lead to the point wherein a defendant has to enter a plea. Criminal attorneys often advise their clients on what kind of plea they should enter, since it can determine the kind of punishment they’ll receive in the end. Generally speaking, a plea can be one of three types: guilty, not guilty, and no contest.
Entering a guilty plea means that the defendant admits to committing the crime charged against him or her (obviously) although this must be made with the consent of the court. A not guilty plea is similarly obvious, although the trial will go on for a longer period of time because this plea gives more time to the prosecution to further prove its case to the court. Some states, such as North Carolina, give the defendant the right not to enter any plea at all, (known as a mute plea), which the court can identify as a not guilty plea.
A no contest plea is a bit more complicated because the defendant doesn’t admit to the crime and may even challenge the validity of the facts presented by the prosecution. On the other hand, the defendant may still be penalized as if he or she pleaded guilty, although a no contest plea can’t be used in a civil suit against him or her. This means that while the defendant may be punished for the crime in the end, he or she isn’t obliged to pay for, say, damages to the victim.