pleadings | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Law

Pleadings are documents submitted to the court by parties in a case, outlining their legal positions and facts about the case.

The Basics of Pleadings

A court case can seem like a complex puzzle. It is filled with many moving parts. Pleadings are one of these crucial parts. They are written documents that people involved in the case, or their lawyers, file with the court. These papers explain what they believe is legally and factually true about the case. Both the person bringing the case, known as the plaintiff, and the one defending against it, known as the defendant, use them to tell their sides of the story.

The Role of Pleadings

In a court case, they play a significant role. They set the stage for the entire trial. When the plaintiff files their initial pleading, known as the “complaint,” they lay out what they believe happened. Afterward, the defendant responds with their pleading, known as the “answer.” This document will confirm or deny the plaintiff’s claims. The answer might also offer some defenses or explain why the defendant should not be held responsible.

Additionally, they ensure that both sides know what the case is about. They outline the issues that the court will need to resolve. Both sides then prepare for trial, focusing on these issues.


The two primary types of pleadings are the complaint and the answer. Yet, there are other pleadings, too, like “counterclaims,” “cross-claims,” and “third-party complaints.” These extra pleadings help parties bring other people into the case or make additional claims. If a party thinks someone else should be held responsible, they might file a third-party complaint. After all, criminal justice is all about ensuring the right person is held accountable.

The Importance of Pleadings in Criminal Justice

The importance of pleadings in criminal justice cannot be overstated. They are the foundation of any case. Without them, a case could not start, and the court wouldn’t know what the case was about. Pleadings ensure that everyone has a fair chance to tell their side of the story. They promote honesty, transparency, and fairness – values that are crucial in criminal justice.

The Impact on Case Outcome

They can have a significant impact on the outcome of a case. They set the path that the case will follow. If they are poorly written or miss key points, it can hurt a party’s chance of winning. On the other hand, a well-written pleading can help convince the judge or jury of a party’s position. Therefore, it’s vital that all parties carefully craft their pleadings.

All in all, they are the key to opening and shaping a criminal court case. They give everyone a chance to present their side of the story, making sure that everyone gets a fair hearing. This is the essence of justice.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 07/27/2023

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