Most of the answers to this question have been pretty accurate in a general sense. A no contest plea or “nolo contendre” plea does simply mean that you do not wish to contest the charges against you. Technically, it is not an admission of guilt. However, depending on the type of plea bargain or sentence being imposed, a no contest can be the equivalent of a guilty plea. For example, it is very common for people to take “time served” on a misdemeanor charge, such as possession of marijuana. (Just because this is common, does NOT mean it is recommended, but that is a different topic entirely.) To take time served on a possession of marijuana charge you can enter either a plea of no contest or guilty and the end result is the same, a permanent conviction on your record. On the other hand, you can enter a plea of no contest and be placed on deferred supervision, which does not necessarily result in a finding of guilt or a conviction on your record. Alternatively, you can also enter a guilty plea and be placed on deferred supervision as well, with the same outcome.
Personally, as a Dallas criminal defense lawyer, I haven’t come across a situation yet where the difference between a no contest plea and a guilty plea have had any noticeable consequences for clients. The difference in type of plea may have had more significance in the past, but seems to be not much more than a technicality at this point.
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This question was answered on Quora. The Quora post can be viewed here.