In old English Law.  A suit or action.  Thus, the power to “hold pleas” is the power to take cognizance of actions or suits; so “common pleas” are actions or suits between private persons.  And this meaning of the word still appears in the modern declarations, where it is stated, e.g., that the defendant “has been summoned to answer the plaintiff in a plea of debt.”

In common-law practice.  A pleading; any one in the series of pleadings.  More particularly, the first pleading on the part of the defendant.  In the strictest sense, the answer which the defendant in an action at law makes to the plaintiff’s declaration, and in which he sets up matter of fact as defense, thus distinguished from a demurrer, which interposes objections on grounds of law.

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.

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