Legal Definition and Related Resources of Plea

Meaning of Plea

An allegation made by either party in a litigation . A defendant ‘s answer of fact to the plaintiffs allegation. A plea in bar is one that goes to the merits of the case and denies that the plaintiff has any cause of action . A plea in abatement is one where a defendant without disputing the plaintiffs claim , objects to the jurisdiction of court or time of assertion of plaintiffs claim or some other defect or objection to the parties ; by it he must also show how the plaintiffs error may be corrected and furnish him with materials for avoiding the same mistake in another suit in regard to the same cause of action . This is known as giving the plaintiff a better writ. See David v David, 161 Md. 532, 157 A. 755; Crawford v Slade, 9 Ala. 887. The term also denotes the formal answer of an accused in a criminal proceeding to the charge or charges against him.

Plea Alternative Definition

In Equity. A special answer showing or relying upon one or more things as a cause why the suit should be either dismissed, or delayed, or barred. Mitf. Eq. PI. (Jeremy Ed.) 219; Cooper, Eq. PI. 223; Story, Eq. PL § 649. The modes of making defense to a bill in equity are said to be by demurrer, which demands of the court whether, from the matter apparent from the bill, the defendant shall answer at all; by plea, which, resting on the foundation of new matter offered, demands whether the defendant shall answer further ; by answer, which responds generally to the charges of the bill; by disclaimer, which denies any interest in the matters in question. Mitf. Eq. PL (Jeremy Ed.) 13; 2 Story (U. S.) 59; Story, Eq. PL § 437. Pleas are said to be pure which rely upon foreign matter to discharge or stay the suit, and anomalous or negative which consist mainly of denials of the substantial matters set forth in the bill. Story, Eq. PL §§ 651, 667; 2 Daniell, Ch. Pr. 97, 110; Beames, Eq. PL 123; Adams, Eq. 236.
(1) Pleas to the jurisdiction assert that the court before which the cause is brought is not the proper court to take cognizance of the matter.
(2) Pleas to the person may be to the person of the plaintiff or defendant. Those of the former class are mainly outlawry, excommunication, popish recusant convict, which are never pleaded in America, and very rarely now in England; attainder, which is now seldom pleaded (2 Atk. 399) ; alienage, which is not a disability unless the matter respect lands, when the alien may not hold them, or he be an alien enemy not under license (2 Ves. & B. 323) ; infancy, coverture, and idiocy, which are pleadable as at law (see Abatement) ; bankruptcy and insolvency, in which case all the facts necessary to establish the plaintiff as a legally declared bankrupt must be set forth (3 Mer. 667), though not necessarily as of the defendant’s own knowledge (Younge, 331; 4 Beav. Rolls, 554; l’ Younge & C. 39) ; want pf character in which he sues, as that he is not an administrator (2 Dick. 510; 1 Cox, 198), is not heir (2 Ves. & B. 159; 2 Brown, Ch. 143; 3 Brown, Ch. 489), is not a creditor (2 Sim. & S. 274), is not a partner (6 Madd. 61), as he pretends to be, that the plaintiff named is a fictitious person, or was dead at the commencement of the suit (Story, Eq. PL § 727). Those to the person of the defendant may show that the defendant is not the person he is alleged to be, or does not sustain the character given by the bill (6 Madd. 61; Rep. temp. Pinch, 334), or that he is bankrupt, to require the assignees to be joined (Story, Eq. PL § 732). These pleas to the person are pleas in abatement, or, at least, in the nature of pleas in abatement.
(3) Pleas to the bill or the frame of the bill object to the suit as framed, or contend that it is unnecessary. These may be the pendency of another suit, which is analogous to the same plea at law, and is governed in most respects by the same principles (Story, Eq. PL § 736; 2 Mylne & C. 602; 1 Phil. Ch. 82; 1 Ves. Jr. 544; 4 Ves. Jr. 357; 1 Sim. &. S. 491; Mitf. Eq. PL [Jeremy Ed.] 248; see Lis Pendens), and the other suit must be in equity, and not at law (Beames, Eq. PL 146-148) ; want of proper parties, which goes to both discovery and relief, where both are prayed for (Story, Eq. PL § 745; see 3 Younge & C. 447), but not to a bill of discovery merely (2 Paige [N. Y.] 280; 3 Paige [N. Y.] 222; 3 Cranch [U. S.] 220); a multiplicity of suits (1 P. Wms. 428; 2 Mason [U. S.] 190) ; multifariousness, which should be taken by way of demurrer, when the joining or confession of the distinct matters appears from the face of the bill, as it usually does (Story, Eq. PL § 271).
(4) Pleas in bar rely upon a bar created by statute, as, the statute of limitations (1 Sim. & S. 4; 2 Sim. 45; 3 Sumn. [U. S.] 152), which is a good plea in equity as well as at law, and with similar exceptions (Coop. Eq. PL 253; see Statute of Limitations), the statute of frauds, where its provisions apply (1 Johns. Ch. [N. Y., 425; 2 Johns. Ch. [N. Y.] 275; 4 Ves. 24, 720; 2 Brown, Ch. 559), or some other fublic or private statute (2 Story, Eq. Jur. 768) ; matter of record or as of record in some court, as, a common recovery (1 P. Wms. 754; 2 Freem. Ch. 180; 1 Vern. 13); a judgment at law (1 Keen, 456; 2 Mylne & C. 602; Story, Eq. PL § 781, note), the sentence or judgment of a foreign court or a court not of record (12 Clark & F. 368; 14 Sim. 265; 3 Hare, 100; 1 Younge & C. 464), especially where its jurisdiction is of a peculiar or exclusive nature (12 Ves. 307; Ambl. 756; 2 How. [U. S.] 619), with limitations in case of fraud (1 Ves. Jr. 284; Story, Eq. PL § 788), or a decree of the same or another court of equity (Cas. temp. Talb. 217; 7 Johns. Ch. [N. Y.] 1; 2 Sim. & S. 464; 2 Younge & C. 43) ; matters purely in pais, in which case the pleas may go to discovery, relief, or either, both, or part of either, of which the principal (.though not the only) pleas are, account, stated or settled (2 Atk. 1; 13 Price, 767; 7 Paige [N. Y,] 573; 1 Mylne & K. 231), accord and satisfaction (1 Hale, 564), award (2 Ves. & B. 764), purchase for valuable consideration (2 Sumn. [U. S.] 507; 2 Younge & C. 457), release (3 P. Wms. 315), lapse of time, analogous to the statute of limitations (1 Ves. Jr. 264; 10 Ves. 466; 1 Younge & C. 482, 453; 2 Jac. & W. 1; 1 Hare, 594; 1 Russ. & M. 453; 2 Younge & C. 58; 1 Johns. Ch. [N. Y.] 46; 10 Wheat. [U. S.] 152; 1 Schoales & L. 721; 6 Madd. 61; 3 Paige [N. Y.] 273; 5 Paige [N. Y.] 26; 7 Paige [N. Y.] 62), title in the defendant (Story, Eq. PL § 812). At Law. The defendant’s answer by matter of fact to the plaintiff’s declaration, as distinguished from a demurrer, which is an answer by matter of law. It includes as well the denial of the truth of the allegations on which the plaintiff relies, as the statement of facts on which the defendant relies. In an ancient use, it denoted action, and is still used sometimes in that sense; as, summoned to answer in a plea of trespass. Steph. PL 38, 39, note; Warren, Law Stud. 272, note (w) ; Oliver, Prec. 97. In a popular, and not legal, sense, the word is used to denote a forensic argument. It was strictly applicable in a kindred sense when the pleadings were conducted orally by the counsel. Steph. PL Append, note 1. Pleas are either dilatory, which tend to’ defeat the particular action to which they apply on account of its being brought before the wrong court, by or against the wrong person or in an improper form, or peremptory, which impugii the right of action altogether, or which answer the plaintiff’s allegations of right conclusively. Pleas are also said to be to the jurisdiction of the court, in suspension of the action, in abatement of the writ, in bar of the action. The first three classes are dilatory, the last peremptory. Steph. PL 63 ; 1 Chit. PL 425; Lawes, PL 36. Pleas are of various kinds, in abatement (see Abatement) ; in avoidance, called, also, confession and avoidance,” which admits, in words or in effect, the truth of the matters contained in the declaration, and alleges some new matter to avoid the effect of it, and show that the plaintiff is, notwithstanding, not entitled to his action (1 Chit. PL 540; Lawes, PL 122), see Confession and Avoidance; in bar, which deny that the plaintiff has any cause of action (1 Chit. PL 407; Co. Litt. 303b). The term is often used in a restricted sense to denote what are with propriety called special pleas in bar. These pleas are of two kinds, the general issue, and special pleas in bar. See Special Plea in Bar. The parts of a plea are: First, the title of the court. Second, the title of the term. Third, the names of the parties in the margin. These, however, do not constitute any substantial part of the plea. The surnames only are usually inserted, and that of the defendant precedes the plaintiff’s; as, Roe ads. Doe. Fourth, the commencement, which includes the statement of the name of the defendant, the appearance, the defense (see Defense), the actio non (see Actio Non) . Fifth, the body, which may contain the inducement, the protestation (see Protestation), ground of defense, quae est eadem, the traverse. Sixth, the conclusion.
(1) Dilatory pleas go to destroy the particular action, but do not affect the right of action in the plaintiff, and hence delay the decision of the cause upon its merits. Gould, PL c. ii. § 33. This class includes pleas to the jurisdiction, to the disability of the parties, and all pleas in abatement. All dilatory pleas must be pleaded with the greatest certainty, must contain a distinct, clear, and positive averment of all material facts, and must, in general, enable the plaintiff to correct the deficiency or error pleaded to. 1 Chit. PL 365. See Abatement; Jurisdiction.
(2) Pleas in discharge admit the demand of the plaintiff, and show that it has been discharged by some matter of fact. Such are pleas of judgment, release, and the like.
(3) Pleas in excuse admit the demand or complaint stated in the declaration, but excuse the noncompliance with the plaintiff’s claim, or the commission of the act of which he complains, on account of the defendant’s having done all in his power to satisfy the former, or not having been the culpable author of the latter. A plea of tender is an example of the former, and a plea of son assault demesne an instance of the latter.
(4) Foreign pleas go to the jurisdiction, and their effect is to remove the action from the county in which the venue is originally laid. Carth. 402. Previous to the statute of Anne, an affidavit was required. 5 Mod. 335; Carth. 402; 1 Saund. PL 98, note 1;’ Viner, Abr. Foreign Pleas; 1 Chit. PL 382; Bac. Abr, Abatement (B).
(5) Pleas of justification, -which assert that the defendant has purposely done the act of which the plaintiff complains, and in the exercise of his legal rights. 8 Term R. 78; 3 Wils. 71. No person is bound to justify who is not prima facie a wrongdoer. 1 Leon. 301; 2 Leon. 83; Cowp. 478; 4 Pick. (Mass.) 126; 18 Johns. (N. Y.) 443, 679; 1 Chit. PI. 486.
(6) Pleas puis darrein continuance, which introduce new matter of defense, which has arisen or come to the plaintiff’s knowledge since the last continuance. In most of the states, the actual continuance of a cause from one term to another, or from one particular day in term to another day in the same term, is practically done away with, and the prescribed times for pleading are fixed without any reference to terms of court. Still, this right of a defendant to change his plea so as to avail himself of facts rising during the course of the litigation remains unimpaired; and though there be no continuance, the plea is still called a plea puis darrein continuance, meaning, now, a plea upon facts arising since the last stage of the suit. In Criminal Law. The formal answer of the defendant to the indictment. Pleas are either general or special; the general pleas being guilty, not guilty, and nollo contendere, and all other pleas being special. Special pleas are either in bar, being, if found true, a bar to further prosecution, or in abatement, those which go merely to abate or suspend the proceeding. See Pleading.

Synonyms of Plea


  • allegation
  • answer
  • arguments at the bar
  • assertion
  • claim
  • counterstatement
  • defendant’s answer to charges
  • defense
  • exceptio
  • excusatio
  • legal argument
  • legal defense
  • petitio
  • pleading
  • pleadings
  • rebuttal
  • refutation
  • reply
  • response
  • retort
  • statement alleged in defense
  • statement alleged in justification
  • statement of defense
  • statement which answers the charges
  • statements on behalf of the defense Associated Concepts: entering a plea
  • plea in abatement
  • plea in bar
  • plea in equity
  • plea of estoppel
  • plea of guilty
  • plea of insanity
  • plea of nolo contendere
  • plea of not guilty
  • plea of payment
  • plea of recoupment
  • plea of release
  • plea of selfdefense
  • plea of setoffforeign phrases: Ambiguum placitum interpretari debet contra proferentem
  • An ambiguous plea ought to be interpreted against the party entering it
  • Exceptio falsi omnium ultima
  • A false plea is the worst of all
  • Interdum evenit ut exceptio quae prima facie justa videtur
  • tamen inique noceat
  • It sometimes happens that a plea which on its face seems just
  • nevertheless is injurious and inequitable

Related Entries of Plea in the Encyclopedia of Law Project

Browse or run a search for Plea in the American Encyclopedia of Law, the Asian Encyclopedia of Law, the European Encyclopedia of Law, the UK Encyclopedia of Law or the Latin American and Spanish Encyclopedia of Law.

Plea in Historical Law

You might be interested in the historical meaning of this term. Browse or search for Plea in Historical Law in the Encyclopedia of Law.

Legal Abbreviations and Acronyms

Search for legal acronyms and/or abbreviations containing Plea in the Legal Abbreviations and Acronyms Dictionary.

Related Legal Terms

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Translate Plea from English to Spanish

Translation of Plea , with examples. More about free online translation into Spanish of Declaración judicial and other legal terms is available here.

  • Declaración judicial
  • Declaración
  • Alegato
  • Alegación
  • Instancia
  • Petición
  • Respuesta formal a un alegato
  • Legal English Translation


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English Spanish Translation of Plea

1 contestación a la demanda, alegato defensivo, excepción.
Dilatory plea: excepción dilatoria
Not guilty plea: Alegación de inocencia
br>2 solicitud al Tribunal, petición, súplica.
A plea for mercy: Una petición de clemencia

3 Pretext.
Plea bargaining: Negociación de la pena, Sentencia de conformidad
Plea in bar/Peremptory plea: Excepción perentoria

Find other English to Spanish translations from the Pocket Spanish English Legal Dictionary (print and online), the English to Spanish to English dictionaries (like Plea) and the Word reference legal translator.

Plea in Law Enforcement

Main Entry: Law Enforcement in the Legal Dictionary. This section provides, in the context of Law Enforcement, a partial definition of plea.


This term is a noun.

Etimology of Plea

(You may find plea at the world legal encyclopedia and the etimology of more terms).

early 13c., “lawsuit,” from Anglo-French plai (late 12c.), Old French plait “lawsuit, decision, decree” (9c.), from Medieval Latin placitum “lawsuit,” in classical Latin, “opinion, decree,” literally “that which pleases, thing which is agreed upon,” properly neuter past participle of placere (see please). Sense development seems to be from “something pleasant,” to “something that pleases both sides,” to “something that has been decided.” Meaning “a pleading, an agreement in a suit” is attested from late 14c. Plea-bargaining is first attested 1963. Common pleas (early 13c.) originally were legal proceedings over which the Crown did not claim exclusive jurisdiction (as distinct from pleas of the Crown); later “actions brought by one subject against another.”

Meaning of Plea in Spanish

Description/ translation of plea into Spanish: (SUG) contestación (la que debe presentar el encausado al serle presentada la acusación); equivalencia sugerida por su paralelismo con la figura análoga del proceso civil; las contestaciones se reducen esencialmente a tres: guilty plea (reconocimiento de culpabilidad), not-guilty plea (no reconocimiento de culpabilidad) y nolo contendere, es decir, contestación del encausado en la que el imputado no se pronuncia en ningún sentido; plea bargaining: conformidad negociada, negociación de la conformidad (acuerdo entre el fiscal y el imputado en cuya virtud éste se manifiesta conforme con la calificación del delito o con la pena solicitada por aquél); (plea colloquy: “vistilla” de contestación (trámite que tiene lugar en presencia del juez durante la comparecencia inicial); plea before venue: (in the law of England and Wales/ en el derecho de Inglaterra y Gales) contestación preliminar (declaración del encausado reconociéndose o no culpable en una vista preliminar); plea agreement: acuerdo entre el encausado y el fiscal por el que el primero se conforma con la acusación en todo o en parte; objeción, excepción (ej: cosa juzgada, demencia); plea offer: propuesta u oferta de contestación; to challenge the plea (after entered): volver sobre la contestación (presentada, formulada); insanity plea: excepción de demencia; enter a plea (to): contestar a la acusación; plea and directions hearing (in the law of England and Wales/ en el derecho de Inglaterra y Gales): (SUG) vista preliminar, audiencia de organización (la que tiene lugar inmediatamente antes del comienzo del juicio oral, en la se organiza el desarrollo del juicio oral; plea and case management hearings: audiencia preliminar (en la que el acusado manifiesta si se declara o no culpable y se organiza la administración de las pruebas)[1]

Note: for more information on related terms and on the area of law where plea belongs (criminal procedure law), in Spanish, see here.

Notes and References

  1. Translation of Plea published by Antonio Peñaranda


See Also

  • Law Enforcement Officer
  • Police
  • Law Enforcement Agency

Further Reading

Plea and directions hearing in Law Enforcement

Main Entry: Law Enforcement in the Legal Dictionary. This section provides, in the context of Law Enforcement, a partial definition of plea and directions hearing.


See Also

  • Law Enforcement Officer
  • Police
  • Law Enforcement Agency

Further Reading

Plea Meaning in the U.S. Court System

In a criminal case, the defendant’s statement pleading “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest” in answer to the charges.

Meaning of Plea in the U.S. Legal System

Definition of Plea published by the National Association for Court Management: In a criminal proceeding, it is the defendant’s declaration in open court that he or she is guilty or not guilty. The defendant’s answer to the charges made in the indictment or information.


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