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What Are The Different Types Of Pleas?

  • By: Patrick Long
  • Published: January 14, 2021

A: The most common are not guilty, guilty, and a continuance without (“CWOF”), which is about the same thing in Massachusetts state court as a nolo contendere plea in federal court or many other states’ courts. Not guilty and guilty are pretty much what they sound like. The one thing I do want to point out is that these are legal terms, so pleading not guilty is not dishonest even if you did what you are charged with. You are legally not guilty until you are proven guilty, or enter a guilty plea, and should not plead guilty unless you have decided it is the best option after full discussion with an attorney about your options. A CWOF, or a nolo contendere plea depending on where you are, is an admission that the prosecution could prove sufficient facts to find you guilty, but not quite an admission of guilt. The advantage of these pleas is that in some situations it will not hurt you like a guilty plea would later in life. For example, for most employment purposes, employers can only see a version of your criminal record that includes convictions or open cases, but not CWOFs where you have completed the sentence. So it can be better to take a CWOF than to go to trial and risk being found guilty. But make sure you get the benefit you think you are getting. For law enforcement, military, or any other employment that requires a security clearance, CWOFs will probably show up. For immigration, they will show up and will count exactly the same as a conviction.

Other pleas exist but are less frequently used. A guilty file is sometimes an option when a conviction would carry immigration consequences, because it IS a conviction under state law, but IS NOT a conviction under federal law, provided certain conditions are met.

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