We say 'plead innocence'.

'He pleaded innocence but found guilty'.

But why don't we say 'plead innocent' ?

  • Note: I read this before asking my question ell.stackexchange.com/questions/177245/…
    – user138449
    Aug 31, 2022 at 14:40
  • It is not pleaded innocence. In court, it's plead guilty or not guilty. plead innocence could mean the same idea but not in a courtroom.
    – Lambie
    Aug 31, 2022 at 20:24

2 Answers 2


There's no special reason.

If you go back hundreds of years, the accused could make a "plea", which was asking (or pleading) the court not to punish them. For example you could plead that you were forced to commit the crime, or that you were possessed by demons etc. You could also make a plea that you didn't commit this particular crime. That is you could plead not guilty.

You didn't claim to be innocent (since we are all sinners) but you pleaded for the court not to punish you because you didn't commit the specific crime which you were accused of.

You could also make a confession. A confession is not actually a plea.

The in the 19th century, the plea system was simplified. You either entered a not guilty plea, or a guilty plea. A guilty plea is not actually a plea, but the expression got fixed.

In law there are lots of fixed expressions. In the case of pleas, the language got fixed to "not guilty". It might have been different. But the courts wanted a nice simple choice for the plea. They didn't want one defendant pleading "not guilty" another pleading "innocent" a third pleading "didn't do it", a fourth pleading "not a crime", a fifth...

  • 1
    Whereas juries in most places (assuming they reach a verdict) find the accused either guilty or not guilty, in Scottish criminal courts they also have the option of delivering a verdict of not proven. Aug 31, 2022 at 19:23

In British courts, at least, the expression traditionally used is plead not guilty rather than plead innocent.

  • could you explain why the expression 'plead innocent(adj)' is not common (or doesn't exist) in English? Because 'plead guilty(adj)' is in use.
    – user138449
    Aug 31, 2022 at 15:04
  • 4
    Same in American courts. see What is the difference between innocent and not guilty?
    – Esther
    Aug 31, 2022 at 15:08
  • See James's excellent answer. Aug 31, 2022 at 16:43

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