Pleas (Criminal):

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criminal plea:
n. (13c)

1. Criminal law. An accused person’s formal response of “guilty,” “not guilty,” or “no contest” to a criminal charge. — aka plea. [1]

1. The answer required by law of one formally accused of crime. 21 Am J2d Crim L § 458. [2]

1. In criminal cases, a response required by law of a person formally accused of a crime, specifically, either a plea of guilty, a plea of nolo contendere, or a plea of not guilty. [3]

Acceptable Pleas:

guilty plea – the defendant’s formal admission in court of having committed the charged offense.

  • Alford plea – a guilty plea, entered as part of a plea bargain, while not admitting guilt. — aka (in New York) Serrano plea.
  • blind plea – a guilty plea made without the promise of a concession from the judge or prosecutor.

not guilty plea – denial of having committed the charged offense.

no contest – a plea by which the defendant does not contest or admit guilt. Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b). — aka nolo contendere.

Related Terms:

plea affidavit – a sworn, notarized, written guilty plea to a misdemeanor, traffic violation, or other lesser offense, usually submitted in absentia.

plea bargain – a negotiated agreement between a prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant pleads guilty or no contest to one of multiple charges, usually in exchange for a more lenient sentence or dismissal of other charges. — aka plea agreement; negotiated plea; sentence bargain. — plea-bargain, vb. — plea-bargaining, n.

  • charge bargain (1890) 1. Criminal law. A plea bargain whereby a prosecutor agrees to drop some of the counts or reduce the charge to a less serious offense in exchange for a plea of either guilty or no contest from the defendant.  2. An agreement made before criminal charges are filed whereby a prosecutor allows a defendant to plead guilty to a lesser charge or only some of the charges in exchange for dismissal of the higher or remaining charges.  See Bousley v. U.S., 523 U.S. 614, 635, 118 S.Ct. 1604, 1612 (1998). — aka count bargain.

    • cop a plea vb. (1914) Slang. (Of a criminal defendant) to plead guilty to a lesser charge as a means to avoid standing trial for a more serious offense.
    • fact bargain – An agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant whereby the defendant stipulates that some facts are true in exchange for the prosecutor’s not introducing certain other facts into evidence.
  • sentence bargain (1972) An agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant whereby the defendant promises to plead guilty or no contest to the stated charge in return for a lighter sentence.  *  Usually a judge must approve the bargain.

plea colloquy – an open-court dialogue, usually just before the defendant enters a plea, wherein the judge establishes that the defendant understands the consequences of the plea.

plead vb. (13c) 1. To make a specific plea, especially in response to a criminal charge <he pleaded not guilty>.  2. To assert or allege in a pleading <fraud claims must be pleaded with particularity>.  3. To file or deliver a pleading <the plaintiff hasn’t pleaded yet>.


conditional plea (1924) A plea of guilty or nolo contendere entered with the court’s approval and the government’s consent, the defendant reserving the right to appeal any adverse determinations on one or more pretrial motions.  *  If an appeal is successful, the plea is withdrawn and a new one entered.  Fed. R. Crim. P.  11(a)(2).

connected plea (1993) A criminal defendant’s plea that the prosecution has conditioned on a codefendant’s also pleading guilty. — aka wired plea.

negotiated plea (1956) The plea agreed to by a criminal defendant and the prosecutor in a plea bargain. See PLEA BARGAIN.  Cf. blind plea.



provident plea (1952) Military law. A plea that is entered knowingly, intelligently, and consciously, and is legally and factually consistent and accurate. [1]


plea in abatement – A dilatory plea in a criminal case, challenging irregularities in procedure occurring before arraignment, but setting up no facts going to the real merits of the case. 21 Am J2d Crim L § 468.

plea in bar – A plea by an accused in a criminal case, asserting any matter in confession and avoidance not admissible under the plea of not guilty. 21 Am J2d Crim L § 464.

 plea of liberum tenementum A plea of freehold; a plea which in some jurisdictions is allowed to be interposed by the defendant in an action of trespass. Fort Dearborn Lodge v Klein, 115 Ill 177,3 NE 272.

plea of limitations -A special plea of the statute of limitations in a criminal case. 21 Am J2d Crim L § 160.

plea of ne unques administrator See ne unques administrator.

plea of nil debit – See nil debit.

plea of nolo contendere – See nolo contendere.

plea of non assumpsit – See non assumpsit.

plea of non cepit – See non cepit.

plea of non detinet – See non detinet.

plea of non possumus – A plea of want of capacity.

plea of non vult contendere – A plea similar to nolo contendere.  The defendant will not contest.  Re 17 Club, Inc. 26 NJ Super 43, 97 A2d 171. ‘

This is not a confession of guilt, because an accused person might find himself without witnesses to establish his innocence, from their death, absence, or other cause, and hence waive a fruitless contest. Commonwealth v Shrope, 264 Pa 246, 107 A 729, 6 ALR 690, 692.

plea of pregnancy – A plea interposed in a criminal prosecution whereby the execution of a pregnant woman is sought to he stayed by reason of her pregnancy.

plea of prior jeopardy – A special plea in bar, required in some jurisdictions, although not in others, to present the defense of former jeopardy. 21 Am J2d Crim L §473. — aka plea of former jeopardy.

  • prior jeopardy – A defense, otherwise known as double jeopardy or former jeopardy, based upon a provision of the United States Constitution found in the Fifth Amendment or a similar provision of a state constitution, deriving from a principle of the common law that a man shall not be brought into danger of his life or limb more than once for one and the same offense; a rule prohibiting a second punishment for the same offense and, as well, a second trial for the same offense.  21 Am J2d. Crim L § 165.
    The test is not whether the defendant has already been tried for the same act, but whether he has been put in jeopardy for the same offense.  See Gavieres v United States, 220 US 338, 55 L Ed 489, 31 S Ct 421.
  • identity of offenses – A matter of prior identity of offenses. A matter of prior jeopardy, the common law rule and the constitutional provisions against second jeopardy applying only to a second prosecution for the same act and crime, both in law and in fact, on which the first prosecution was based; the test being whether the two offenses are essentially independent and distinct or not-whether one offense can be committed without necessarily committing the other. State v Westbrook, 79 Ariz 116, 285 P2d 161. Another test being whether the same evidence is required to prove the offenses. 21 Am J2d Crim L § 182. As the term “same offense” is used in the constitutional provision that no person shall be twice put in jeopardy for the same offense, or another offense of which the first is a necessary element and consti428, 21 P 859° . If a man Simultaneously commits two Offenseseither of which may be committed without thé . other and is then prosecuted .for each of the ‘ offenses, even if the two prosecutions are based on the same acts, he is not twice put in jeopardy for i the same offense; a fortiori, if the two prosecutions are based on different acts though committed j simultaneously. Berry v United States, 72 App DC 229, 113 F2d 183. A matter of res judicata.The plea of res judicata may be available in cases where there is no such identity of offenses in the twoprosecutions that a plea of former jeopardy could be sustained. Anno: 147 ALR 992.

plea of sanctuary -. A plea anciently allowed in criminal cases under which the defendant, accused of any crime except treason or sacrilege, might set up the privilege of sanctuary.  That is, he might flee to a church or churchyard, and within forty days thereafter go into sackcloth, confess himself guilty before a coroner, state the circumstances of the offense, take oath that he abjured the realm and would quit the kingdom and never return without the king’s leave.  This privilege of sanctuary was much abridged in 1535, and in 1623 was altogether abolished. See 4 Bl Comm 332.

plea puis darrein continuance – A plea alleging matters of defense arising after the commencement of the action and after issue joined. 41 Am J1st Pl § 168.  A plea which impugns the right of further prosecution, not the right of an action altogether. Heirn v Carron, 19 Miss 11 (Smedes & M) 361. [2]

 plea in discharge – Under common law pleading, a plea that admits the plaintiff’s cause of action but avers that the defendant satisfied and discharged the plaintiff’s claim. This plea has been abolished by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and by most states’ rules of civil procedure. [3]


Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.


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