Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Double Plea Definition:

Two or more pleas which includes a contradictory alternative.

An answer that pleads A but if not A, then B.

For example, a defendant enters a plea of not guilty but also of not guilty by reason of insanity.

An elusive concept, here are three proposals.

John Bouvier proposed:

"Double plea: The alleging, for one single purpose, two or more distinct grounds of defence, when one of them would be as effectual in law as both or all."

In their 1888 Dictionary of American and English Law, with Definitions of the Technical Terms of the Canon and Civil Laws, Stewart Rapalje and Robert Lawrence:

"DOUBLE PLEADING - the old rule was that the declaration must not, in support of a single demand, allege several distinct matters, by any one of which that demand is sufficiently supported, and none of the subsequent pleadings was to contain several distinct answers to that which preceded it; and the reason of the rule in each case was, that such pleading tended to several issues in respect of a single claim. But this rule of the common law has been modified both in England and America."

Archibald Brown's dictionary of 1874:

"DOUBLE PLEA - The plea thus described is faulty on the ground of duplicity. Duplicity in pleading is a fault which may arise either in the declaration or in any subsequent pleading, and signifies the allegation of several distinct matters in support of, or in answer to, a single demand, any one of which matters would be sufficient of itself to support the demand, or to answer it. Leave to plead several pleas may, however, be obtained...."

Generally, and admittedly with leave of the Court, a litigant may plead as many different matters as may be necessary for his or her defence.

In the context of criminal law, one 1978 statement of American law proposed:

"If the defendant enters a double plea of not guilty and "not guilty by reason of insanity," there is a bifurcated trial. The first trial is held on the issue of guilt alone, and in this trial the defendant is conclusively presumed sane. If the defendant is found guilty in the first phase of the trial, the second phase follows, the sole purpose of which is to pass upon the issue of legal sanity."1


  • Brown, Archibald, A New Law Dictionary and Institute of the Whole Law for the Use of Students, the Legal Profession and the Public (London: Stevens & Sons, 1874)
  • NOTE 1: People v. Corona, 145 Cal. Rptr. 894 (1978, Justice Kane, Court of Appeals of California)
  • Rapalje, Stewart and Lawrence, Robert, A Dictionary of American and English Law, Volume II (Jersey City: Frederick D. Linn & Co. Law Publishers and Booksellers, 1883)

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!