In a court case, there are generally two parties, one which has filed the court case and is seeking legal remedy and another is one against whom the case has been filed. The party which has filed the court case or is seeking legal remedy is known as the plaintiff and the other party against whom the case has been filed is known as the defendant.
In the United States, there are two types of cases, one civil and the other criminal. In a criminal case, a defendant is someone who is accused of having committed a particular crime. Whereas in a civil case, a defendant is someone against whom relief is being sought by the other party called as plaintiff. In certain types of cases such as arbitration or divorce, the defendant is/are referred to as the respondent.
Thus we can see that the term ‘defendant’ is used in both civil as well as criminal cases. The plaintiff in a civil lawsuit can be any other party such as individuals or business houses. But in the case of criminal lawsuits, the other party is generally the state, federal or any other similar authority.
This distinction between both the parties to the lawsuit is important because the law has ascertained certain legal responsibilities to each party. In the case of defendants, the law does not require them to prove the case filed against them. This is often referred to as a ‘burden of proof’ in the legal terminology. It is the responsibility of the plaintiff who has filed the lawsuit, to prove evidence regarding the matter which is being disputed. Only if the court finds that the evidence indicates that plaintiff’s side should be heard, they can allow the lawsuit to be tried in the court.
What Happens When you Become a Defendant
A person is considered to be a defendant, only when a party has filed any lawsuit against them. Upon becoming a defendant, the first action taken against you is that you are served a petition or complaint. This document served depends on the type of case which has been filed against you. The law has given powers to the officer of the court to serve the above-mentioned document to the defendant. No other person can serve the petition or complaint to the defendant.
The document served to you, may ask you to be present in court on a particular date and time or require you to counter file a document explaining your side in response.
Once you receive the document, it is compulsory for you to reply back or answer within the time frame that is given in the document. Generally, this time frame can vary from 15 days to 60 days. In case you fail to reply within the timeframe mentioned in the document, the plaintiff can approach the court asking for a judgment regarding the lawsuit. This means that the court can proceed with the complaint and evidence submitted by the plaintiff and give a decision without considering your side.
Defendants in Criminal Lawsuits
In the case of criminal lawsuits, a defendant is considered to be a person who has been accused of wrongdoing which is criminal in nature and punishable by law. The other party in the lawsuit is generally a public prosecutor who represents the state or federal governments. However, in certain cases the courts also allow private prosecutors to take charge.
If you become a defendant in a criminal lawsuit, the police department will issue an arrest warrant against you and take you in their custody. After that, you are brought before the court in which the lawsuit is being tried. In the case where there is more than one person involved, they are referred to as co-defendants. By law, it is compulsory for a defendant to be present in the court during every stage of the legal proceedings initiated against them. Also depending upon the offense for which the defendant has been charged, they are allowed to apply for bail.
Defendants in Civil Lawsuits
In the case of a civil lawsuit, a defendant (in some cases referred to as the respondent) is an individual, group of individuals, firms or juridical persons (persons as per law) who have been alleged to have committed a civil wrong. The party who has filed the lawsuit is referred to as a plaintiff.
If you become a defendant in a civil suit, you send summons by the court and asked to appear before it within the stipulated time and put across your side. It is not compulsory for you to be present at all times during the legal proceedings in court. You can also appoint a lawyer to take up your side of the lawsuit and appear on your behalf in the court.
Also in these lawsuits, the defendant is permitted by law to create and set up a funds account that can be used to pay for all legal expenses and litigation costs that arise out of the lawsuit. The funds have been permitted to have multiple members who are also allowed to contribute monetarily to the fund. In addition to membership, these funds can be of private or public nature. The funds can be set up for use by natural persons or juridical persons and for a particular purpose. This remedy is however not available for criminal lawsuits.