Legal Dictionary

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Defendant

The defendant is the person against whom the government has brought charges in a criminal proceeding or the party who is being sued for damages (or injunctive relief) in a civil action. For example, in the criminal case The People of the State of California vs. John Smith, John Smith is the defendant. In criminal proceedings, the defendant's opponent is the government; whereas in a civil action, the opponent is a plaintiff (the person/entity that has been harmed).

In criminal cases, the victim does not have an individual criminal cause of action against the defendant. In other words, the prosecution can proceed against a criminal defendant regardless of whether the victim wants the prosecution to go forward. Criminal defendants have a variety of constitutional rights, including:

  1. The right to be free from any unreasonable searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution),
  2. The right to remain silent (Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution),
  3. The right to a trial before a judge or a jury (Article Three of the U.S. Constitution),
  4. The right to confront and cross-examine witness against them (Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution),
  5. The right to a speedy and public trial (Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution),
  6. The right to be represented by an attorney (Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).