As It Is: Pleading no contest

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By David Giuliani

A few weeks ago, I mentioned in this column that I had received a ticket for driving 27 mph in a 15-mph zone on National Avenue at Highlands University. And I wrote that it was true: I had been exceeding the speed limit.

When the officer presented me with the citation, he had me sign on the spot where I would go to Municipal Court. I’m used to just admitting my guilt and choosing the option in which I pay a fine.

I did that last year when I failed to obey a stop sign. A local officer later told me that I should have gone to Magistrate Court and gotten a better deal than simply paying the ticket.

But I’ve long had the mindset that if I violated a traffic law, I may as well admit it. When I went to my arraignment in Municipal Court, I was prepared to plead guilty. Sure, I could plead no contest, but that’s the same thing as pleading guilty — or so I thought.

When Municipal Judge Eddie Trujillo walked came into the courtroom, he explained to everyone present — about 20 of my fellow offenders — their options in his court.

Of course, we could plead not guilty, but then we’d have to endure further hearings. On the other hand, the judge said, pleading guilty would mean we’d have no options as far as outcomes — we’d have to suffer the consequences.

But the third option — no contest — means we could have choices. And the judge said we didn’t have to give an explanation for such a plea.

Three people were arraigned before me. Pleading no contest, the first person said he had parked in a recently painted yellow zone in front of his business; he said some inmates had recently changed it. (Of course, inmates don’t do such things on their own; they’re under the direction of the authorities.)

In response, the judge said the man didn’t have any other tickets with the court. He said if the man kept his nose clean for the next 30 days, the case would be dismissed. All the man had to do was pay $29 in court costs.

The next two people didn’t give any explanation at all. And they got the same deal.

Taking the first three’s lead, I pleaded no contest. The  judge noted that I didn’t have any other tickets before his court, which was true. I’ve had my share of citations over the years, but nothing that involved Municipal Court.

The judge gave me the same deal as the others. I was out $29, but I didn’t have to pay a more expensive ticket and suffer from the resulting higher insurance rates.

I just have to make sure not to get in trouble again in the next 30 days — and hopefully after that.

I doubt the judge would give such a deal to frequent offenders, but if you’re not a regular in his courtroom, you’ll likely end up paying the relatively minimal court fees if you plead no contest.

• • •

While waiting for the judge to arrive, I didn’t have much to do but look at a number of signs around the courtroom.

I noticed a yellowing capacity sign on the door, with the state fire marshal’s office stating that no more than 28 people could be in the room. But the room contains 33 chairs, not including those for the judge and his assistant.

The room didn’t reach capacity the day I was there. But given the number of chairs, it’s possible that the room could have too many people at times — at least in the eyes of the state fire marshal.

David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or dgiuliani@lasvegasoptic.com.