Legal Dictionary


Definition of plea


    From Middle English < Old French plait, plaid < Mediaeval Latin placitum ("a decree, sentence, suit, plea, etc., L. an opinion, determination, prescription, order, lit. that which is pleasing, pleasure'"), neut. of placitus, pp. of placere ("to please").


  • SAMPA: /pli:/
  • Rhymes: -iː


plea (plural pleas)

  1. An appeal, petition, urgent prayer or entreaty.

    a plea for mercy

  2. An excuse; an apology.

    1667, Necessity, the tyrant's plea. --John Milton, Paradise Lost IV.393
    No plea must serve; t is cruelty to spare. -- Sir John Denham.

  3. That which is alleged or pleaded, in defense or in justification.
  4. (law) That which is alleged by a party in support of his cause.
  5. (law) An allegation of fact in a cause, as distinguished from a demurrer.
  6. (law) The defendant's answer to the plaintiff's declaration and demand.
  7. (law) A cause in court; a lawsuit; as, the Court of Common Pleas. See under Common.

    The Supreme Judicial Court shall have cognizance of pleas real, personal, and mixed. --Laws of Massachusetts.

Usage notes

In 19th century U.K. law, that which the plaintiff alleges in his declaration is answered and repelled or justified by the defendant's plea. In chancery practice, a plea is a special answer showing or relying upon one or more things as a cause why the suit should be either dismissed, delayed, or barred. In criminal practice, the plea is the defendant's formal answer to the indictment or information presented against him/her.

Related terms

  • pleas of the crown
  • plead
  • pleasant
  • please
  • pleasurable
  • pleasure


  • Alphagram: aelp
  • leap
  • peal
  • pale

Further reading

In legal terms, a plea is simply an answer to a claim made by someone in a civil or criminal case under common law using the adversary system. Colloquially, a plea has come to mean the assertion by a ]]criminal[[ defendant at arraignment, or otherwise in response to a criminal charge, whether that person pleaded Guilty, Not Guilty, No Contest or Alford plea.

The concept of the plea is one of the major differences between criminal procedure under common law and procedure under the civil law system. Under common law, a plea of guilty by the defendant waives trial of the charged offenses and the defendant may be sentenced immediately. This produces a system under American law known as plea bargaining.

In civil law jurisdictions, there is generally no concept of a plea of guilty. A confession by the defendant is treated like any other piece of evidence, and a full confession does not prevent a full trial from occurring or relieve the plaintiff(s) from its duty of presenting a case to the trial court.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     warrant
2.     tampering
3.     emtio
4.     amnesty law
5.     magistrates court
6.     lex fori
7.     landed property
8.     lex situs
9.     lex causae
10.     ownership