Plea of Nolo Contendere in Criminal Jurisprudence

Plea of Nolo Contendere in Criminal Jurisprudence

Plea of nolo contendere (pronounced noh-loh kuhn-ten-duh-ree) which, literally speaking, means that an accused person does not contest the charge or conviction, but also does not accept the responsibility for the alleged crime. Nolo contendere is a legal term that comes from the Latin for “I do not wish to contend”. It is also referred to as a “plea of no consent”. This plea mandates a court to sentence an accused person as if he or she is guilty even though the accused person does not admit guilt.

The plea of contendere is also referred to as plea-bargaining. The driving factors behind all classes of plea-bargaining include saving the time of courts, cutting down expenses involved in trial, and expeditious delivery of justice. A critical advantage of the adoption of such a process is that the accused feels satisfied with what he or she gets and this generally precludes the possibility of filing of an appeal.

‘Plea-bargaining’ already stands formally introduced in Pakistan’s criminal justice system through section 25 of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, even though under the Islamic system of dispensation of criminal justice being followed in Pakistan, a number of offences – including serious offenses like murder and hurt – are compoundable. The compoundability of such offences – particularly those that cause hurt – provides monetary compensation to the victim as the main sentence and imprisonment as an additional but optional sentence. The details of such offences have been very well versed in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), especially those are germane to bodily injury. Apex courts in their various dicta have observed that availability of a room for plea-bargaining in all such cases is quite obvious and such an opportunity should ordinarily be grabbed by the court on its own initiative as it does not involve any legislative intervention or consent.

The concept of plea-bargaining in criminal cases is generally explained as a pre-trial negotiation that takes place between the accused and the prosecution, during which the accused agrees to plead guilty to the charge in exchange for a certain concession to be extended by the prosecution.

Academics classify plea-bargaining in three categories:

  1. charged bargain,
  2. sentence bargain,
  3. fact bargain.

In very first plea i.e charged bargain, the accused is given an option to plead guilty to a lesser charge or only to some charges framed against him or her.

In second plea i.e sentence bargain, the accused pleads guilty to the charge framed against him or her but there is a bargain as to the quantum of sentence.

The third one i.e fact bargain, which is not very common, is concerned with the admission of a relevant fact by the accused in exchange for a concession by the prosecution.

Introduction of the plea of nolo contendere in the criminal jurisprudence of Pakistan also does not appear to be offensive to the other existing relevant statutory provisions. For instance, in dealing with trials before a magistrate, section 242 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC ) provides that when the accused appears or is brought before the magistrate, a formal charge shall be framed relating to the offence for which he or she is accused and he or she shall be asked whether he or she admits to committing the offence with which he or she is charged.

Section 243 of CrPC goes on to provide that if the accused admits to committing the offence with which he or she is charged, this admission shall be recorded as nearly as possible in the words used by him or her, and if he or she shows sufficient cause of why he or she should not be convicted, the magistrate may convict or sentence him or her accordingly.

While taking the plea of nolo contendere, an accused person neither admits to having committed the offence nor pleads guilty, thus, taking such a plea may not amount to confession for the purposes of qisas in terms of section 304 of PPC read with article 17 of Qanun-e-Shahadat Order 1984 and may also not attract the consequences contemplated by s.243 of CrPC or subsection (2) of 265-E of CrPC.

The manner of disposition in trials involving ‘hurt’ cases, as described in the Pakistan Penal Code from sections 334, 336, 337-A1 to 337-L2, is likely to fulfill the obligation of the State under clause(d) of Article 37 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, regarding the ensuring of inexpensive and expeditious delivery of justice inasmuch as through this process the victims receive the requisite compensation promptly, the accused get handed down their lawful punishments without unnecessary loss of time, and the trial courts save time and effort likely to be consumed during trial. The ever-growing volume of criminal cases before courts in Pakistan is already stretching the capacity of courts to its limits and the capability of judges to its edge, and the issue, therefore, begs ingenuity and necessitates innovative approaches to deal with the problem.

It is proverbial that those shy of innovation and experiments are condemned to the dustbin of history.



Robert M.Brady vs United States (1970) 397 US 742.
Rudolph Santobellow vs New York (1971) 404 US 257.
Stanley Blackledge vs Gary Darrel Allison (1977) 431 US 63.
Ikramullah vs Samiullah alias Shaani 1998 MLD 1184.
Aurangzeb vs The State 1999 pcr LJ 230.
Criminal Miscellaneous NO.717-B-2009.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organization with which he might be associated.

Sohail Khan

Author: Sohail Khan

The writer is practising lawyer and is working as an intern at Rana Law Chambers. He has keen interest in the criminal justice system, constitutional law and legal research.