Residents of Wheeling who are facing criminal charges often have the daunting task of weighing the benefits of pursuing a trial in order to prove their innocence or accepting a deal that will allow their ordeals to be over. Typically, accepting a plea agreement requires that one plead guilty to an offense. Doing so may result in him or her facing reduced charges, yet that guilty plea may end haunting them down the road. The only alternative may be to face a jury trial, which could result in one still being found guilty. Are there any other options? 

Many may have heard stories of people pleading “no contest” to criminal charges. According to information shared by the Cornell Law School, a no contest plea (often referred to as “nolo contendere”) means that one accepts punishment for a crime while neither accepting or denying responsibility for it. One typically offers such a plea if it appears there is sufficient evidence to convict him or her. 

West Virginia offers defendants the chance to accept another type of plea: a “Kennedy” plea. This type of plea originates from a ruling handed down by the state’s Appellate Court in 1987, which specified that one can avoid admitting guilt by accepting a prison sentence if he or she concludes that he or she would probably have been found guilty. Kennedy pleas and no contest pleas may sound like the same thing, but they actually have two distinct differences. 

A judge must review and agree with the conclusion that one would likely have been convicted in agreeing to accept a Kennedy plea, whereas no such agreement is required in a no contest case. A no contest plea is also not admissible in subsequent criminal or civil cases, while courts have ruled that Kennedy pleas are.