What are the Consequences of a No-Contest Plea in Illinois?

When charged with a crime, you must enter a plea to that crime.  You can plead not guilty, guilty, or no-contest.  You are likely familiar with the first two, but may not be aware of what a no-contest means and what effect it could have on your future.

The Latin term that is often used for no-contest is “nolo contendere.”  To plead no-contest is to state that you do not disagree with the facts, but are not admitting your guilt.  However, this plea will appear on your record and has much the same effect as a guilty plea.  The main advantage to a no-contest plea is that it cannot be used against you in later in civil proceedings. This could even be important when going to court for a simple traffic ticket.

The Arraignment Process

A plea is entered at an arraignment proceeding.  Under Illinois law, a defendant must be called into open court and formally read the charges against him.  At this time, the defendant will enter a plea to those charges.  Section 725 ILCS 5/113-4 of this law sets forth the pleas available as not guilty, guilty, and guilty but mentally ill.

Section 725 ILCS 5/113-4.1 expressly allows for a no-contest plea when accused of violating the Illinois Tax Act.  Section 725 ILCS 5/113-8 provides that non-citizens must be informed that they risk deportation, denial of naturalization, or denial of admission to the U.S. before their plea can be accepted by the court.

Although Illinois law does not explicitly state that a no-contest plea is allowed in criminal cases, it is a valid plea.  But because it is not contained in the statute, a defendant does not have a right to plead no-contest.  By nature of the arraignment process, however, the court can accept or deny a plea.  For example, if a person pleads guilty but mentally ill, the court cannot accept this plea and proceed without first determining the mental condition of the defendant.  So this plea could ostensibly be entered in Illinois court and either accepted or rejected by the court.

Federal law allows for such a plea.  Before the court can accept either a guilty plea or no-contest plea, the court must address the defendant and determine that the plea is entered voluntarily and with full knowledge of its consequences.  See Rule 11, Fed. R. Crim. Pro.


If the court allows a no-contest plea, the consequences are much the same as a guilty plea.  The defendant will be subject to the same penalties imposed for conviction of the crime.  Where this type of plea can be helpful is in subsequent civil suits.  A no-contest plea typically cannot be used to prove guilt in a civil case.

Serious consideration must be given to the consequences of any plea entered.  Each case is unique and since Illinois does not offer this plea as a matter of right, it is in your best interest to consult a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney for more information.   You should ask your attorney about the applicability of this plea, whether it will help you, whether you are vulnerable to civil suit, and whether you can have your record expunged if you do enter this plea.

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