Plea in criminal case – meaning, types and everything you need to know

Plea taking is a crucial step toward criminal justice. Here you will find every important issue you need to know about plea

    What is Plea?

    Black’s law dictionary defines a term plea as an accused person’s formal response of guilty, not guilty or no contest to a criminal charge.

     In any case and subject to some statutory exceptions, the plea must be personal, free, and voluntary and by a fit person. That’s the reason why the accused should be present at the trial that he may hear the case made against him and have the opportunity of answering it.

    Types of plea

    1. Plea of guilty
    2. Plea of not guilty
    3. Plea of Autre Fois convict, Autre Fois acquit and pardon

    What is the Plea of guilty?

    In simple terms plea of guilty means a confession to the offense charged.

    A plea of guilty has two aspects:
    • First of all it is a confession of facts,
    • Secondly, it is such a confession that without further evidence the court is sniffed to and indeed in all proper circumstances will and upon it and result in a conviction.

    A plea of guilty must be clear and free from ambiguities that is to say it must be an unequivocal plea, a plea like “it is true”, “ l admit” “ l did Wrong”, but if someone plea that it is  “ true but…” “Did it because….” And the like this is not clear and it is full of ambiguities and so it is an equivocal plea.

     The plea of an accused should not be equivocal.

    It is prudent that before accepting a plea of guilty by the accused the court must be satisfied that the accused reply is nothing but a clear admission of guilty.

    The reading of a charge and calling the accused to plead is not enough, the court must make sure that the accused understands the substance of the charge and he must admit all the ingredients of the offense.

    Impact of Plea of Guilt

    If the accused admits the truth of the charge his admission shall be recorded as nearly as possible in the words he uses, and the magistrate should convict him and pass sentence upon or make an order against him unless there shall appear to be sufficient cause to the contrary.

    The court records everything which the accused persons say in his own words which indicate that he has actually pleaded guilty.

    It is emphasized that when the accused plead guilty to charges the prosecution should be called upon to state in some details the fact constituting the offense which are recorded.

    The accused should be asked if he agrees or disagrees with the fact alleged.

    If he agrees and if to facts stated to support the charge, then and only then should a conviction be entered.

    If the accused denies some facts stated which are essential to the charge then a plea of not guilty should be entered in substitution for the first plea then the case should go to trial.

    In some instance the facts denied by the accused might not affect the validity of the charge in which case if the prosecution is willing to accept the accuser’s version of guilty will remain undisturbed  and a conviction be entered.

    Plea of not guilty Meaning

    This is entered where the accused denies the charge in such a term as “it is not true” “am not guilty” it is a lie,” and so on. The magistrate must record that it is a plea of not guilty.

    Plea of not guilty may be necessitated by a number of factors:
    1. when the accused  do not admit the truth of the charge
    2. when the accused admits the truth of the charge but in fact, his plea  is  equivocal (ambiguity)
    3. where the accused refuses to plead

    Different between Plea of guilt and plea of not guilt

     Plea of Autirefois Convict, Autirefois Acquit and Pardon

    This is the kind of plea where the accused pleads that he was been acquitted or convicted or has obtained pardon in law the court should inquire whether such a plea is true or not. It is the law of the administration of criminal justice that no person shall be tried twice for the same offense arising of the same facts unless the previous conviction has been set aside or reversed.

    How To Prove Plea of Autirefois Convict, Autirefois Acquit and Pardon

    Previous Acquittal
    This by a certificate certified copy of the acquittal order or a releaser certificate of the prison department where the accused was in remand before the acquittal and a certified copy of judgment- Local or foreign, lastly a prison discharged warrants.

    Previous conviction
    A certified copy of the sentence or order, or a certificate of the prison department, and lastly a certified true copy of the judgment.

    A certificate by the statehouse or home affairs ministry, or a certificate by the prison departments, or warrant of discharge.

    Consequences of Failing to Ask the Accused Person to Plead To the Charge

    It is the the requirement of the law that after a charge has been read over to the accused person must reply. It is not complete until he has pleaded to the charge. Where no plea is taken the trial is a nullity. The omission to take a plea is an incurable irregularity.

    It has further been argued that the magistrate may take a plea afresh even the accused plea had been taken on the previous day by the different magistrates.

     However, failure to take a plea afresh where the case has been postponed and the accused appeared before another magistrate is not fatal.

    Moreover, failure to take a plea to the accused person is against the rule of natural justice that a man must not be condemned unheard and he cannot be asked to defend himself on an accusation of which he is not aware, that is necessary the charge to be read over and explained to the accused person.

    Can a plea be withdrawn?

    Yes, the court may allow an accused person to withdraw his plea at any time of the proceedings before the sentence or a final order is made. The court must record reasons for permitting the accused to withdraw his plea.

    The court may allow the accused to withdraw the plea of guilty even after conviction but prior to the imposition of the sentence where facts raised in mitigation constitute denial of the offense.

    The power of the court to allow withdrawal of a plea of guilty where it is unequivocal is discretionary i.e. the court can allow or disallow the withdrawal of a plea of guilty. The magistrate is required to apply his mind judicially and that is why he has to record his reasons for refusal and also for allowing the accused to change his plea.

    Plea of Co-Accused

    Where there are several accused persons charged jointly and some of them plead guilty, the proper procedure is to convict those who plead guilty and proceed to try the others. The issue of whether they should be sentenced straight away will depend on whether or not the prosecution intends to call them as witnesses.

    Up to this point I’m sure you have a clear understanding of plea issues in criminal justice.
    The above discussion covered on meaning and types of the plea, the consequence of not taking of plea, withdraw of the plea, and plea of not guilty.



    Tanzania Government Printers, Criminal Procedure Act [Cap 20 R.E 2002]

    Mshana, S. (N.D) Criminal Procedure Law: Training Manual for Certificate of Law, Tanzania Police Academy

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