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In most cases, there is no difference between the two pleas. Only in limited cases does a “no contest” plea matter. For example, if you plead guilty, then that guilty plea can be used as an admission in later civil or criminal cases. However, if you plead “no contest”, then your admissions can’t be used against you in later civil and criminal cases.
As a general rule, it is always best at the initial hearing (even if a person may have made statements or believes themselves guilty) to plead not guilty. This is because the government, through the prosecutor's office, has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a very high burden of proof. When a defendant pleads not guilty, the court will set the case for trial at a later date. This allows a defendant to consult with a lawyer, who if hired can request all of the evidence in the case (the "discovery") and upon consultation and review of evidence, determine the best approach -whether that is fighting it, or negotiating with the prosecutor for a plea to reduce the sentence and/or penalties.
Even if your son confessed, he may have defenses he's not aware of. For example, if he made statements to police while in custody but without having been given Miranda, those statements may not be admissible. There's no way to know without a lawyer looking at the evidence first, which is why simply pleading guilty or no contest is normally never a good idea.
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