What is a Defendant?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 19 December 2019
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In a court case there are at least two parties. The plaintiff is the party who has a complaint or who is making an accusation, while the defendant is the party that is being accused of doing harm to another. A defendant is not always an individual. In some cases, it can be a company or a government.

It is important to differentiate between a defendant and a suspect. A suspect is generally a term that is used by law enforcement. It refers to a person who is believed to have done wrong. This individual has likely not been formally charged. He is merely a subject of suspicion.

When a person is a defendant, suspicion has been taken to the next level. This means that some party has made a formal accusation of wrongdoing against another. As a result, legal action is in the process. There must be a court case in order for there to be a defendant.

The case does not always have to involve criminal wrongdoing. Defendants are also parties in civil cases. For example, a person who is accused of damaging another person's car in an automobile accident can be a defendant.

Defendants are not automatically deemed guilty just because they are accused. The judicial system is not designed to place the burden of proof on the defendants. An accusation against a person must be proven by the party making the claim.


An accused person has the right to be informed of the accusations against him. He has the right to hear the evidence that supports those claims. Thereafter, the defendant, whether accused of criminal harm or civil harm, must be given the opportunity to defend himself.

Depending on the type of case that is pending against him, he may have a jury decide on his fate, or this may be done by a judge. Whether or not defendants have a lawyer may also be determined by the type of case. In some instances, legal representation is required, and even those defendants who cannot afford it will have it provided for them.

Defendants are not always individuals. Other entities can also do harm and have legal action brought against them. Such entities include corporations and governments. The United States, for example, may be named as the defendant in instances when a federal entity such as a government agency or branch of the military is accused of wrongdoing.


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Post 5

I was pulled over by an on duty officer because one off duty officer said he saw us not wearing seat belts. I believe this is entrapment by a off duty officer without the uniform.

Post 4

@Miriam98 - That is great to hear. I think that the reason why people have that misconception about public defenders is a result of the massive workload that they have. Usually public defenders are overworked, but many of these public defenders still have a passion for justice in the legal system and will do all that they can to defend the defendant to the best of their ability.

But, when you consider the resources of a private attorney of a wealthy client and that of a public defender you will notice a severe disadvantage that a public defender has.

For example, in the OJ Simpson trial, the defendant had eight attorneys with unlimited funds. If OJ was subjected to

a public defender with limited resources, I wonder if the results of the trial would have been the same. Who knows, but I have to say that wealthy defendants do have an advantage over indigent ones and are probably more successful in the defendant appeal process.
Post 3

Some people think that a lawyer sent from a public defender’s office will not be as good as a private attorney, because the former is supposedly “free.” However, such is not the case. First of all, the taxpayer foots the bill for the public defender, so they are just as qualified as the private lawyer. As for how well they do their job, I can only speak from what I’ve seen.

I was on jury duty for a murder trial, and all I can tell you was the public defender was amazing. She ran circles around the plaintiff’s legal team, and the plaintiff had two lawyers working for them. It’s good to know that if you can’t afford legal defense, you can have a court appointed lawyer working on your case.

Post 2

@nony - It’s my understanding that, unless the defense is entering a guilty plea, the defendant’s lawyer believes that his client is innocent. If he believed otherwise he certainly wouldn’t divulge that in a trial as it would completely undermine a case.

If a lawyer thinks that he can no longer in good conscience represent the defendant then he will just withdraw himself from the case.

Post 1

One of the things that I’ve always wondered about is the confidentiality agreement between the defendant attorney and the defendant himself.

Specifically, does the defendant tell the lawyer if in fact he is guilty? What if his lawyer later finds out he is guilty after first assuming he is innocent? What does the lawyer do then?

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