AskDefine | Define defendant

Dictionary Definition

defendant n : a person or institution against whom an action is brought in a court of law; the person being sued or accused [syn: suspect] [ant: plaintiff]

User Contributed Dictionary



From defend + -ant



  1. In civil proceedings, the party responding to the complaint; one who is sued and called upon to make satisfaction for a wrong complained of by another.
  2. In criminal proceedings, the accused.

Related terms


person prosecuted or sued

Extensive Definition

A defendant or defender (Δ in legal shorthand) is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute.
A defendant in a civil action usually makes his or her first court appearance voluntarily in response to a summons, whereas a defendant in a criminal case is often taken into custody by police and brought before a court, pursuant to an arrest warrant. The actions of a defendant, and its lawyer counsel, is known as the defense.
A respondent is the parallel term used in a proceeding which is commenced by petition.
Historically,a defendant in a civil action could also be taken into custody pursuant to a writ of capias ad respondendum and forced to post bail before being released from custody. However, a modern day defendant in a civil action is usually able to avoid most (if not all) court appearances if he or she is represented by a lawyer whereas a defendant in a criminal case (particularly a felony or indictment) is usually obliged to post bail before being released from custody and must be present at every stage thereafter of the proceedings against him or her (they often may have their lawyer appear instead, especially for very minor cases, such as traffic offenses in jurisdictions which treat them as crimes). If found guilty, or if the defendant reaches a plea bargain or other settlement with the prosecution, the defendant receives a sentence from the presiding judge. This sentence, however, does not necessarily include the full punishment: social stigma of prosecution and collateral consequences of criminal charges may still affect the defendant.

Historical restrictions on giving evidence

In Britain up until the end of the 19th century, defendants were banned by law from giving evidence in their defence, since it was assumed they would be inclined to lie.


See also

defendant in Czech: Žalovaný
defendant in German: Angeklagter
defendant in Spanish: demandado
defendant in Japanese: 被告
defendant in Dutch: Gedaagde
defendant in Russian: Подсудимый
defendant in Scots: Defender
defendant in Slovak: Žalovaný
defendant in Swedish: Svarande
defendant in Chinese: 被告

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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