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A defendant is a person or entity accused of a crime in criminal prosecution or a person or entity against whom some type of civil relief is being sought in a civil case.

Terminology varies from one jurisdiction to another. For example, Scots law does not use the term "defendant"; the terms "accused" or "panel" are used instead in criminal proceedings, and "defender" in civil proceedings.[1]

Criminal defendants[edit]

In a criminal trial, a defendant is any person accused (charged) of committing an offence (a crime; an act defined as punishable under criminal law). The other party to a criminal trial is usually a public prosecutor, but in some jurisdictions, private prosecutions are allowed.

Criminal defendants are often taken into custody by police and brought before a court under an arrest warrant. Criminal defendants are usually obliged to post bail before being released from custody. For serious cases, such as murder, bail is often refused. Defendants must be present at every stage of the proceedings against them. (There is an exception for very minor cases such as traffic offenses in jurisdictions which treat them as crimes.)

In some jurisdictions, vulnerable defendants may be able to access the services of Registered Intermediaries to facilitate communication at court.[2]

Civil defendants[edit]

In a civil lawsuit, a defendant (or a respondent) is also the accused party, although not of an offence, but of a civil wrong (a tort or a breach of contract, for instance). The person who started the civil action through filing a complaint is referred to as the plaintiff.

Defendants in civil actions usually make their first court appearance voluntarily in response to a summons. Historically, civil defendants could be taken into custody under a writ of capias ad respondendum. Modern-day civil defendants are usually able to avoid most (if not all) court appearances if represented by a lawyer.

Most often and familiarly, defendants are persons: either natural persons (actual human beings) or juridical persons (persona ficta) under the legal fiction of treating organizations as persons. But a defendant may be an object, in which case the object itself is the direct subject of the action. When a court has jurisdiction over an object, it is said to have jurisdiction in rem. An example of an in rem case is United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola (1916), where the defendant was not The Coca-Cola Company itself, but rather "Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola". In current US legal practice, in rem suits are primarily asset forfeiture cases, based on drug laws, as in USA v. $124,700 (2006).

Defendants can set up an account to pay for litigation costs and legal expenses. These legal defense funds can have large membership counts where members contribute to the fund. The fund can be public or private and is set up for individuals, organizations, or a particular purpose. These funds are often used by public officials, civil-rights organizations, and public-interest organizations.

England and Wales[edit]

Historically, "defendant" was a legal term for a person prosecuted for misdemeanour. It was not applicable to a person prosecuted for felony.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Glossary - Help - Judiciary of Scotland". Scotland-judiciary.org.uk. 1976-05-03. Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  2. ^ O'Mahony, B.M., Smith, K., & Milne, R. (2011). "The early identification of vulnerable witnesses prior to an investigative interview". British Journal of Forensic Practice, 13 (2), 114-123
  3. ^ O. Hood Phillips. A First Book of English Law. Sweet and Maxwell. Fourth Edition. 1960. Page 151.

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48423 news items

Los Angeles Times
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 13:26:15 -0700

A 29-year-old man accused of knowingly infecting another man with HIV was ordered by a San Diego judge Tuesday to no longer use Internet dating sites, including the site where he met the alleged victim. A criminal complaint against Thomas Miguel Guerra ...
Online Athens
Sun, 31 Aug 2014 19:15:00 -0700

A man facing charges that he struck and seriously injured a pedestrian in Athens while driving drunk failed in a bid to suppress evidence in the case. Among other things, a Clarke County Superior Court judge recently denied William Wilson Heaton Jr.'s ...
Tulsa World
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 11:56:15 -0700

A Tulsa man received a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty to four child pornography-related charges on Tuesday. Mark Stephen Williams, 45, was charged with single counts of distribution of child pornography and possession of child pornography as ...
New York Law Journal (registration)
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 08:00:00 -0700

Defendant's original companion returned and the two men drove off. The police followed the car and they observed defendant's companion lean forward in a manner suggestive of secreting something under his seat. They then observed defendant committing ...
Jackson Clarion Ledger
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 08:22:30 -0700

Another defendant, John Mary, pleaded guilty to conspiracy last month in a plea deal. He agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of the other defendants if their cases went to trial. In exchange for his guilty plea, Mary received no jail time and could ...
Marianas Variety
Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:26:15 -0700

Judge Camacho ordered the Department of Corrections to escort Tenorio to a bank last Friday because the trust account check could only be cashed by the defendant. On June 11, 2014, Tenorio led his wife to believe that he would burn her with gasoline.


Tue, 02 Sep 2014 09:30:00 -0700

Two brothers have been sentenced after admitting tax evasion, including one who confessed to illegally pocketing just £43. Mohammed Joynal Abdin and Mohammed Bablu Abdin both pleaded guilty to a single charge of tax evasion on the day they were due ...
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 20:11:15 -0700

CEDAR RAPIDS — The last defendant charged for her involvement in the Latasha Roundtree fatal shooting pleaded guilty to lesser charges Thursday in Linn County District Court. Alleigha Church-Green, 20, of Canton, Ohio, pleaded guilty to perjury, a ...

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