If you’re facing a charge of driving under the influence (DUI) in Georgia, your plea options are guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere – which is Latin for “no contest.”
In previous years there were meaningful advantages to pleading nolo contendere in DUI cases. Although the plea is still a good option for minor offenses, its advantages have been significantly scaled back when used against charges for DUI.
What Are the Advantages of Pleading Nolo Contendere in Georgia?
When you plead nolo or “no contest,” you’re not actually admitting guilt. While the plea means that you’re not challenging the specific charges against you, it’s not an admission of guilt or claim of innocence.
By making the nolo plea, you avoid having to go to trial for that specific charge but will go instead straight to the sentencing process. In the case of a DUI, those penalties could include suspension of your driver’s license, fines, and community service.
But here’s the good news about a nolo contendere plea: since you’re not admitting guilt, the plea cannot be used against you in other cases, such as injuries to other people or property damage.
In other words, it can limit your responsibility for damages.
For example, let’s say you are charged with DUI in an accident that resulted in a storefront being damaged. Your nolo plea means that while you’ll likely receive the legal penalties of the DUI charge, the plea itself cannot be used against you in the property damage case.
How to Make a Nolo Contendere Plea in Georgia
Under Georgia law, a nolo plea can made just once every five years.
You cannot use the nolo contendere plea if:
- You’ve been convicted of DUI or have made a plea in a DUI case in the past five years
- You’re under 21-years-old
- Your blood alcohol content (BAC) was higher than .15
The nolo contendere plea is not usually available for repeat offenders. It is meant for those who made a one-time mistake.
Will a Judge Automatically Accept My Nolo Contendere Plea for DUI?
Today, judges in Georgia are under no obligation to accept your nolo plea in a DUI case. It wasn’t always like that, though. In fact, up until the late 1990s, the nolo contendere plea was commonly used for first-time DUI charges.
As long as the judge accepted the plea, the person charged would not lose their license and they could claim they were not actually convicted of the DUI.
That all changed, however, in 1997 when the Georgia General Assembly ended the favorable ways that nolo contendere could be used in DUI cases.
When Should I Use a Nolo Contendere Plea in Georgia?
Remember, you can only use the nolo plea once every five years, but it can be most effective for those involved in misdemeanor traffic offenses, like speeding, driving with no insurance, driving with a suspended license, and hit and run (as long as no one suffered serious injuries).
Again, if the charge is DUI with injuries to other people or property damage, a nolo plea can be effective in shielding you from those liabilities.
Will A Nolo Contendere Plea Affect My Insurance?
For DUI charges, the nolo plea will remain on your record. If the offense is for a minor traffic offense like speeding, the plea will not be recorded.
In some instances, the plea itself may prevent points from being taken from your license, but your insurance provider will use its own policies to determine how the citation affects your rates.
Is a Nolo Contendere Plea My Best Bet for a DUI Charge?
Although a nolo plea does have its advantages in DUI cases – chiefly protecting you to some degree from liability if others are injured or if there is property damage – it is just one legal mechanism that can be used.
If the evidence against you is weak, you may be better off pleading not guilty and defending the charges.
Because there is usually a host of factors in DUI cases – even if it’s your first – and the outcome can affect your life for years to come, your best course of action is to speak with a DUI defense attorney. A skilled lawyer will review all aspects of your case and develop the best strategy to have the charges either reduced or dismissed altogether.