Plea taking marks the commencement of the trial process in a criminal court. After a decision has been taken to prosecute an accused person, he/she is brought before a court of law, to plead to the charge or charges laid against him. It is worth noting that an individual can be charged with more than one offence in which in law, is referred to as counts.
When the accused person is brought before court, the charge or charges are read out and he/ she will then be required to respond, and the accused person can plead either guilty or not guilty, refuse to plead, or challenge the charge. If they plead not guilty, the Magistrate or the Judge records the plea and sets a hearing date, for the start of the trial. If the accused person pleads guilty, he/she is admitting to the charge and will be sentenced. After the accused person has pleaded guilty, the prosecution will present the facts on which the charge or charges lie. The court is then required to convince itself that the accused person is making a guilty plea, and that the plea is unconditional and unequivocal.
In certain circumstances the accused person can refuse to respond to a charge. In this situation, a plea of not guilty should be entered. In other circumstances, the accused person may challenge a charge before the plea is taken, on the grounds, for instance, that it is based on the wrong section of the law, or that it is not based on any known law, or that he/she has been previously convicted of the said offence or offences.
However, in offences that are felony in nature, especially murder, the accused person will not take plea until his/her sanity is proved, since an individual of unsound mind can not be tried in the Court of Law.