Business, Legal & Accounting Glossary

Definition: Defendant


Quick Summary of Defendant

An individual, company, or institution sued or accused in a court of law. The term defendant is the name for the person who is being sued in a civil case or charged with a crime in criminal prosecution. In arbitration the term defendant and respondent are synonymous. The defendant does not have to prove their case; this must be done by the plaintiff.

An individual becomes a defendant in a tort case after a plaintiff files a complaint with the court and notifies the defendant. Cases may be decided against a defendant if they refuse to answer the complaint, in which case the court will make a default judgment against them, or they take the case to court and lose.

Civil cases may allow for both parties in the complaint to receive compensation for their losses under some systems of compensation allocation. For instance, some states allow compensation to be awarded using a comparative negligence system which determines both parties level of negligence and divides the compensation accordingly.

What is the dictionary definition of Defendant?

Dictionary Definition

a person or institution against whom an action is brought in a court of law; the person being sued or accused.

  1. legal 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. legal In criminal proceedings, the accused.

The person charged with a crime, or the subject of a Civil law action. See also, Claimant.

In law, a defendant is the party that must respond to legal action. The legal action against a defendant can be either a civil or a criminal lawsuit. In a civil suit, a plaintiff makes a complaint against the defendant. In a criminal suit, a prosecutor charges a violation of a criminal statute. A lawsuit can name a single defendant or many. A defendant in a court proceeding that represents himself is said to be acting pro se. The legal counsel of a defendant is called the defence in the court proceedings. If a petition rather than a lawsuit is filed in court, the entity named is called a respondent rather than a defendant. Because of the time and costs involved in the US legal system, a potential defendant will often settle out of court before legal action is initiated.

Full Definition of Defendant

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 defence.

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 offences 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: the social stigma of prosecution and collateral consequences of criminal charges may still affect the defendant.

In an informal usage and non-legalistic sense outside the legal context, the term respondent can be used to refute or response to a thesis or an argument in question.

In cross-cultural communication, a respondent is the second person responding to the meaning or message from an original source which has been contextualised Contextualization or decoded for the understanding of respondents as recipients or hearers of the message occurring from a different cultural context.

Related Phrases

cash bond
defence counsel
rightful claimant
default judgment
service of process
directed verdict
sequestrate order

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

Page URL
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Defendant. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd.
September 24, 2022
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Defendant. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: September 24, 2022).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Defendant. Retrieved September 24, 2022
, from website:

Definition Sources

Definitions for Defendant are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 29th October, 2021 | 0 Views.