plead (one’s) belly. Hist. Slang. (Of a female defendant) to claim pregnancy as a defense, usu. to postpone or avoid a court’s sentence of capital punishment or transportation. • A female defendant who pleaded that she was pregnant was treated with suspicion. The judge would appoint a jury of matrons (often consisting of 12 married mothers) to examine the claimant (under the writ de ventre inspiciendo). If the woman was declared to be “quick with child” (in an advanced state of pregnancy rather than “barely with child” or only newly or just possibly pregnant), she enjoyed a reprieve from execution or transportation until after the child’s birth (or miscarriage). Because juries of matrons often declared barren defendants to be pregnant, a court would keep track of a reprieved woman to see if the delay was justified or if she should be made to suffer the sentence (“called down”) at the next session. Although the plea and the special jury are no longer in use, the prohibition against executing a pregnant woman persists in modern law. 18 USCA § 3596(b).
[Blacks Law 8th]