When you’re arraigned for driving while intoxicated (DWI), it can be very scary to listen to the judge read the formal charges against you and ask for your plea.

Do you say, “Guilty,” “Not guilty,” or “No Contest” in response? Before you can make that decision, there are a few things to consider:

Pleading “guilty” means admitting to the charges

When you plead guilty, you essentially waive your right to a trial and any subsequent legal proceedings (including appeals). You acknowledge your guilt, and the court can then proceed to determine the appropriate sentence. 

People often plead guilty either because they want a quick end to their case or they have secured some sort of concessions from the prosecution, such as a lenient sentence recommendation.

Pleading “not guilty” means you assert your innocence

You may wholly deny the charges – or you may simply believe that the prosecution cannot prove its case. A not-guilty plea is a legal strategy to ensure the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. It not only preserves the presumption of innocence around you, but it also preserves your appeal rights if you are convicted.

Pleading “no contest” means you accept responsibility but admit nothing

Pleading no contest is similar to a guilty plea in that you do not dispute the charges against you, and all the consequences are the same. However, unlike a guilty plea, a no-contest plea does not explicitly admit guilt. Instead, it acknowledges that the prosecution has the evidence to likely win at trial.

So, what’s the point? By pleading no contest, you essentially accept the punishment without admitting guilt – and this is a common legal strategy when a drunk driving accident could result in civil liability. A guilty plea could be used against you in a personal injury claim, but a no-contest plea doesn’t carry the same weight.

If you are facing criminal charges, it’s only wise to get some experienced legal guidance about the specific implications of each plea. That way, you can make an informed decision based on the circumstances of your case.