When a defendant is posed a question in a criminal or civil case, he/she will be required to provide the court an answer, or a plea. The term plea is most commonly used during arraignments, when defendants must plead to a charge. The two most common pleas in criminal and civil trials are guilty and not guilty.
However, a defendant can also employ the Alford plea or he/she can plead no contest. During a criminal or a civil case, a defendant will be asked how he/she pleads. In most instances, a defendant will respond “not guilty”. This means that, despite the presence of potentially incriminating evidence, he/she refuses to admit to committing the crime in question. This may be because he/she is actually innocent of the offense, or because he/she is hoping that the evidence is not strong enough to result in a conviction.
A defendant may also plead “guilty”. In instances such as these, the defense will most likely employ an affirmative defense, in order to diminish the defendant’s criminal liability. As a result, the defendant is admitting that he/she is responsible for the offense.
However, due to surrounding circumstances, such as his/her mental state, he/she can not be held culpable for the crime. It is important to note that, if a defendant does choose to plead “guilty”, the trial may not advance, and the defendant may acquire his/her criminal sentence. In some cases, a defendant may not provide any plea, which is usually considered a plea of “not guilty”.