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When a person is charged with a crime, they must answer to that charge in court during an arraignment. This formal answer is called a plea. A defendant can either admit to the charges by pleading guilty or deny the charges by pleading not guilty. A defendant might also plead nolo contendere in which a conviction is accepted though no guilt is admitted. A plea of guilty or nolo contendere is followed by sentencing. A plea of not guilty would be followed by discovery and eventually a trial. A defendant can also be offered a plea bargain, in which a guilty plea is entered in exchange for lowered or dropped charges or a shorter sentence.

[Last updated in August of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]