Entering a plea of Nolo Contendere in an administrative disciplinary action
Appeal of T.B., Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision #16,385
One of the issues in the Appeal of T.B. concerned the student’s attorney entering a plea of “no contest” or nolo contendere* in response to certain allegations of misconduct filed against the student by the school district.
Although New York State does not provided for the accused in a criminal proceeding to advance a nolo contendere plea [People v. Daiboch, 265 NY 125], as the court noted in Kasckarow v Board of Examiners, [33 Misc 3d 1028; appeal pending, Second Department, 2011-11569], “the fact that a defendant in a criminal action does not technically admit guilt in a nolo contendere plea has not prevented New York from recognizing that a nolo contendere plea from another jurisdiction constitutes a conviction for the purposed of sentencing a defendant as a second felony offender.”
Further, New York recognizes so-called “Alford pleas” (North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25), which are similar to nolo contenderepleas in that the Court of Appeals has recognized that, from the New York State's perspective, an Alford plea is no different from any other guilty plea, and may be used for the same purposes as any other conviction.**
New York courts have occasionally addressed a plea nolo contendere or “no contest” in administrative actions. For example, in Dower v. Poston, 76 Misc.2d 72, such a plea was a factor in resolving the disqualification of an individual for appointment to a position in the competitive class.
Dower had entered a plea of nolo contendere to one count of the indictment found against him in which he was charged conspiracy to defraud the United States. Sentenced to imprisonment, his sentence to imprisonment was suspended and he was placed on probation for a period of three years.
When Dower challenged his disqualification for appointment to the position pursuant to §50.4(d) of the Civil Service Law based on his having been “convicted of a crime,” Supreme Court ruled that “It is clear … that [Dower] in his application incorrectly and improperly stated that he had never been convicted of an offense despite the announcement for the position indicated that “conviction of a felony will bar, and conviction of a misdemeanor may bar examination and appointment”. Accordingly, said the court, his disqualification for appointment to the position by the Civil Service Commission was a proper exercise of discretion under the statute.
The Commissioner of Education has considered the impact of pleas of “no contest” in a number of student disciplinary actions.
With respect to the appeal of T.B., T.B.’s then-counsel told the hearing officer that the school district had agreed to drop three of the 4 charges filed against the student and would only pursue one of the charges, “Charge 3.” T.B.’s counsel then submitted a plea of “no contest” on the student’s behalf.
The hearing officer said that as the student was “pleading no contest, as Hearing Officer, then I just will find him guilty of just the one charge.” T.B.’s counsel disagreed with the guilty determination, stating that the student was neither “admitting or denying [the charge]”, just “not contesting the charge.” No witnesses or additional documents were introduced or entered into the record by either party and, after learning that the student had no prior disciplinary history, the hearing officer “referred the matter to the superintendent for a determination of any additional penalties.”
Among the issues raised by T.B. in this appeal to the Commissioner of Education was the claim that Charge 3 was “too vague and insufficient to apprise [the student] of the activities giving rise to the hearing” and that the school district “produced no evidence of [the student’s] guilt and that the ‘no contest’ plea is not an admission and is insufficient proof of guilt.”
With respect to these issues, the Commissioner ruled:
1. The charges in a student disciplinary proceeding need only be “sufficiently specific to advise the student and his counsel of the activities or incidents which have given rise to the proceeding and which will form the basis for the hearing;”
2. Where a student admits the charged conduct, the admission is sufficient proof of guilt; and
3. The record reveals that, although represented by counsel, T.B. failed to raise the issue of “vagueness” before the hearing officer at the hearing and, in fact, agreed to enter a plea with no such objection.
Accordingly, the Commissioner held that as T.B. “failed at the hearing to dispute the specificity of the remaining charge and also failed to enter [the student’s] written statements into the record, [as] neither the issue of vagueness nor those documents were properly part of the record before the board … they may not now be considered as part of this appeal.
As to T.B.’s argument that the “no contest” plea submitted on the student’s behalf was neither sufficient proof nor an admission of the student’s guilt, and claimed that the hearing officer erred in finding the student guilty, the Commissioner disagreed, noting that although “New York State Criminal Procedure Law does not provide for a ‘no contest’ plea.” … [n]evertheless, the courts have recognized that an individual’s ‘no contest’ plea amounts to ‘an admission of the facts as charged,” citing Kufs v State of New York Liquor Authority, 637 NYS2d 846 at 847.
In Kufs, said the Commissioner, the court ruled that “[b]y entering [his] ‘no contest’ plea, petitioner waived [his] right to a review of the facts upon which the punishment was imposed.”
Finding that there was nothing in the record, nor did T.B. argue that the student’s “no contest” plea was not entered in a voluntary, knowing and intelligent manner, the Commissioner said that there was no reason to annul the hearing officer’s determination.
Other decisions in which the Commissioner considered a plea of
“no contest” include:
* Nolo Contendere, is Latin for "I will not contest it." It appears that the only New York statute in which the term is referenced is found in the New York Public Health Law. §4655.2.h.(iv)(A) of the Public Health Law provides, in pertinent part, “... has been convicted of a crime or pleaded nolo contendre[sic] to a felony charge, or been held liable or enjoined in a civil action by final judgment if the criminal or civil action involved fraud, embezzlement, fraudulent conversion, or misappropriation of property [emphasis supplied].”
** Matter of Silmon, 95 N.Y.2d at 475,
The decision in the Appeal of T.B. is posted on the Internet at http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume52/d16385.html
N.B. A LawBlog focusing on Nolo Contendere is posted on the Internet at:http://www.nolocontendere.org/historyofnolo.html