In COMMON-LAW PLEADING, a denial of the plaintiff's assertions.
For example, a plaintiff could bring a lawsuit in order to collect money that he claimed the defendant owed him. If the defendant answered the plaintiff's claim by stating in answer that she did not fail to pay the money owed on the date it was due, this is a denial of a fact essential to the plaintiff's case. The defendant can be said to traverse the plaintiff's declaration of an outstanding debt, and her plea itself could be called a traverse.
The system of common-law pleading has been replaced throughout the United States by CODE PLEADING and by rules patterned on the system of pleading in Federal CIVIL PROCEDURE, but lawyers still use the word traverse for a denial. In some instances, it has taken on specialized meanings for different purposes. For example, in criminal practice, a traverse is a denial of the charges in an indictment that usually has the effect of delaying a trial on the indictment until a later term of the court. A traverse jury is one that hears the claims of the plaintiff and denials of the defendant—a trial jury or petit jury. A traverse hearing may be a pretrial hearing to determine whether the court has authority to hear the case—as when the defendant denies having been properly served with the plaintiff's summons and complaint.