You’ve never been in any kind of serious trouble in your life, so your arrest came as a total shock. You’re already scared and confused — and now you’re suddenly being pushed through an arraignment and asked to state your response to the charges: guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere.

What does nolo contendere mean?

Known as a “nolo,” this Latin phrase is a plea that you can make to acknowledge that the court has enough evidence to convict you and you’re willing to accept the consequences of the charges but don’t want to admit your guilt.

Maybe this sounds like a great idea, but be careful: Nolo pleas are treated the same as convictions  and are just like any other plea deal. They get recorded on your criminal record just the same and nobody who views that record in the future will be interested in the fine distinction that’s made between pleading guilty and pleading nolo contendere.

That might not sound so bad right now, but any kind of guilty plea in court can ultimately cast an inescapable shadow over your life. Future employers, schools, professional boards and landlords may all be privy to your criminal record and may see that as a black mark on your character. If you’re ever in trouble again, the court will consider your past conviction during sentencing — which could lead to increased penalties.

So why would anyone ever choose a nolo plea? Well, such a plea does end the case, which effectively means that all the uncertainty associated with it  also ends. However, a regular plea deal accomplishes the same thing and allows you to negotiate for reduced charges or a reduced sentence. Usually, the only real advantage of a nolo plea is that it can’t be used as an admission of guilt in a civil lawsuit. That can be important if you expect to be sued by an alleged victim and you’re more concerned about the civil consequences than the criminal ones.

Before you enter a plea, talk to a criminal defense attorney about your options.