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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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Debris litters the intersection at 11th and Washington streets in Wilmington following a July 22 crash with a city fire truck. A 19-year-old man is accused of leading police on a chase in a stolen car. (Photo: WILLIAM BRETZGER/THE NEWS JOURNAL).
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Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:33:45 -0700

U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. on Tuesday ordered federal authorities to get outside medical treatment for a jailed key defendant in the homeowners association corruption case. Prosecutors regard Ricky Anderson, 50, an “enforcer” in the massive ...
Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:30:00 -0700

“On neither one of these occasions does it say that they are going to be used against the defendant,” Dugan said. Judge David Cheney said he would research case law on the matter and issue a decision in the near future. Dugan also wants a statement ...
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Tue, 29 Jul 2014 19:47:21 -0700

Luke Merriman was returning home from a hunting trip when his 2006 Chevrolet Silverado pickup struck Ryan Matison's 1994 Toyota ... Subscriber Services. Subscriptions · e-Edition · eNewsletters · Subscriptions · e-Edition · eNewsletters. Sports.
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Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:07:30 -0700

KNOXVILLE — A defendant in an alleged investment fraud scheme which swindled several Blount County residents out of millions of dollars pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court Tuesday afternoon. Paulynn Wright, 42, Knoxville, a loan officer in Benchmark ...
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The preliminary hearing for murder defendant Benjamin Jasper Carter was postponed this morning due to both the prosecution and defense waiting on a couple of reports, according to Deputy District Attorney Luke Brownfield. Brownfield said he wasn't able ...
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Defendant, 53: Rainbow meant God approved of marriage to 16-year-old. Hampden hall of justice aerial 2003.jpg. The Hampden County Hall of Justice, center, is seen in downtown Springfield in this aerial photo. A defendant Tuesday testified that a ...
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Investigators say he was one of the kingpins in an operation to sell drugs and sex across North Central Ohio. They say his list of victims reaches into the dozens. This week Rashaun Ramsey goes to trial in a case involving just one victim, but ...

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