You have a few different options when you enter a plea in criminal court. This starts, of course, with pleading guilty or not guilty, but you also have the option to plead no contest. What does this do for you, and is it basically the same as pleading guilty?
They are similar. Either way, you're not fighting the charges. However, if you plead guilty, you're admitting that you did it, that you were at fault. By pleading no contest, you're not admitting to anything. You're just saying that you won't be offering a defense and you are conceding the charge.
One reason you may want to do this is if you think that a civil suit -- geared around financial compensation -- is going to follow the criminal suit. If so, pleading no contest could be beneficial to you down the road.
You may think, for example, that the odds of beating the charges are small if you plead not guilty. You're worried that a jury will just establish your guilt regardless. Obviously, you do that yourself if you plead guilty. Either way, the court in the civil suit may then use that outcome to prove that you were in fact responsible and should be made to pay compensation.
By using the no contest plea, there's no establishment of guilt to be used in civil court. This doesn't mean you can't still be held responsible in the civil case, but it does mean that they can't simply point to a guilty plea and easily have what they need.
No contest pleas aren't allowed in all cases, but this shows why it's important for you to look into all of your options -- and to understand all possible advantages -- when facing charges.
Source: FIndLaw, "Is Pleading 'No Contest' Different From 'Guilty'?," Andrew Chow, accessed Feb. 24, 2017