The Difference Between “Guilty” versus “No Contest”


The Decision to plead “Guilty” or “No Contest” can Effect Subsequent Civil Cases in California

We live in a litigious society where civil law suits commonly follow criminal cases. Pleading “guilty” or “no contest” can have an effect on a subsequent civil case relating to your criminal matter.  A jury verdict, or a plea of “guilty” in a criminal case can have collateral estoppel effect in a civil case.  A plea of “no contest” to a misdemeanor criminal offense may have no collateral estoppel effect in a later civil proceeding. See Pease v Pease (1988) 201 CA3d 29. In contrast, a prior conviction resulting from a criminal trial that litigated the same issues as the subsequent civil case may have collateral estoppel effect.

Collateral estoppel precludes a party from litigating the same issues in a second action against the same party in a later proceeding.

Collateral estoppel is met when (1) A claim or issue raised in the present action is identical to a claim or issue litigated in a prior proceeding; (2) the prior proceeding resulted in a final judgment on the merits; and (3) the party whom the doctrine is being asserted against was a party or in the prior proceeding.

An administrative agency’s (like the California DMV) decision favoring a defendant will be given collateral estoppel effect in a criminal court when the agency decision was reached in a judicial-like adversary proceeding that gave both parties the opportunity to fully litigate the issue with a final agency decision on the merits. For example, the dismissal of a criminal case by the District Attorney’s Office can have a collateral estoppel effect against the DMV license revocation proceeding.

Before entering a plea in any criminal case, it is always best to consult with an attorney who can advise you on your legal rights.  Please call our office at (408) 816-2311.