It’s a routine day. You’re out running errands. Then, all of a sudden – crash! A drunk driver hits you. You sustain a broken arm. The police investigate, and they charge the offender. After preliminary proceedings, the defendant enters a plea of guilty.
While the court orders some restitution, it isn’t nearly enough to represent all of your losses. You wonder about filing your own civil claim to get fair compensation for your damages.
Does the guilty plea make a difference?
What effect does a guilty plea have on civil litigation?
Here’s what you need to know explained by personal injury attorneys.
Can a Guilty Plea Be Considered Evidence in a Civil Claim in Nevada?
Yes, a guilty plea is evidence in a civil claim in Nevada. The victim may enter evidence of the defendant’s guilty plea as an admission of the other side’s liability. It is not necessarily conclusive, meaning it may not automatically mean that the defendant has legal liability. However, it should be readily admissible through the rules of evidence in the jurisdiction in question.
Is a “No Contest” Plea Evidence in a Civil Claim in Nevada?
No, a no contest plea is not evidence in a civil claim in Nevada. >N.R.S. 48.125 says that evidence of a no contest plea is not admissible in civil proceedings involving the person that made the offer. In fact, even an offer to plead no contest is not admissible in a civil claim. The State of Nevada treats no contest pleas the same as they treat withdrawn pleas. No contest pleas are not admissible as evidence of culpability in a civil claim.
Why Isn’t a “No Contest” Plea Evidence in a Civil Suit?
A no contest in a criminal matter isn’t evidence in a civil suit because the defendant doesn’t admit that they’re guilty. The defendant gives the court permission to treat them as though they are guilty. However, they stop short of saying that they’re actually guilty. They are just saying that they aren’t going to fight the charges, and the court may enter a sentence.
There are several reasons that a person may enter a no contest plea. They may legitimately have no memory of the incident that gives rise to the charges. They may profess their innocence but want to take advantage of the certainty of a plea offer. Preserving their rights for anticipated civil litigation is another reason that someone may prefer a no contest plea. The court may accept the basis for the no contest plea and allow it to enter as the disposition of the case.
Is an Alford Plea the Same Thing as a No Contest Plea in Nevada?
Yes, an Alford plea is the same thing as a no contest plea in Nevada. In Nevada v. Gomes, 930 P.2d 701 (1996), the Nevada Supreme Court settled the issue that the two case dispositions are the same. They based their decision on the fact that the United States Supreme Court could not distinguish between an Alford plea and a no contest plea. They said that both the no contest plea and the Alford plea allow the court to treat a defendant as though they are guilty. Without a material difference, the Nevada Supreme Court said an Alford plea has the same effect as a no contest plea.
Another thing that the Nevada court relied upon in the Gomes case was that there are only four different pleas available under Nevada law. N.R.S. 174.035 says that a defendant may plead guilty, not guilty, guilty but mentally ill or no contest. They said that because an Alford plea is not on the list of possible pleas, it must fall into one of those categories.
In the Gomes case, the defendant pleaded to a charge of sexual assault using an Alford plea. The defendant specifically referenced the civil ramifications of the charge when they entered the Alford plea. The court accepted the plea as a no contest plea and decided that there is no practical difference between the two.
What Is an Alford Plea?
An Alford plea is a plea to resolve a criminal matter. It occurs when a defendant does not want to admit their guilt. However, they want to take advantage of a favorable plea bargain. An Alford plea takes advantage of the benefit of the plea bargain without the defendant having to admit that they committed the offense. The plea’s name comes from the United States Supreme Court case North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970).
Admitting Evidence of a Guilty Plea
Merely the fact that the defendant pleaded guilty to a criminal charge doesn’t by itself admit the evidence in a civil proceeding. The victim needs to prepare a record of the conviction and bring it as evidence. The court may be able to take judicial notice if they’re able to readily verify the conviction under N.R.S. 47.130.
However, you may also establish the conviction using a certified record or an admission of another party. It is often appropriate to address the existence of the guilty plea in preliminary proceedings. As a plaintiff, be sure to address the issue early in litigation to properly build your legal position and fairly utilize the guilty plea in pursuit of your case. Also, consider working with an experienced personal injury lawyer. They can help you collect evidence and prepare a legal strategy that will maximize your civil claim settlement.