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What is a Complainant?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A complainant is a person who makes a formal legal complaint with the goal of having it addressed by law enforcement or a court of law. These people may also be known as petitioners or plaintiffs, depending on the nature of the charges. Once formal legal charges are filed, a number of steps will be taken to evaluate the charges and determine how to move forward with them. There can be penalties for filing false charges, as this is considered damaging to the reputation of the accused, in addition to wasteful of government time and resources.

In civil lawsuits, the complainant or plaintiff is the person suing for damages. When the suit is filed, evidence must be brought in to support the claim, and the respondent has an opportunity to respond to the charges being made in court. The case may be heard by a judge alone or by a jury and a judge, with the court evaluating the merits of the case to make a decision about whether the charges have been proved and how much to award in damages.

In criminal cases, the complainant files charges initially, but if the case goes to court, the government will take over this role, as it is the party that brings suit in court. In criminal cases, the crime is regarded as a crime against the government, and the person who filed the charges in the case is simply a witness to the crime, though he may be the star witness of the case, depending on the matter at hand.

Charges can be filed in a number of ways. Police stations can take reports and requests to file charges from people who have experienced crimes, while courts can directly accept lawsuits filed by people in civil cases. In the charges, the nature of the alleged crime must be clearly outlined. Plaintiffs are usually required to sign to indicate they are filing the report in good faith and full honesty.

There are cases where charges may be filed falsely to harass someone or create a nuisance. Criminal charges are evaluated carefully before they are brought to trial to confirm their validity and determine whether the case will be provable in court. In the case of civil trials, people are reminded and instructed when they file suits that the suit must be valid, with a warning that nonsense suits can result in fines and other penalties from the court.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By OeKc05 — On Aug 18, 2011

My boss fired his secretary shortly after hiring her. She always showed up late, she chatted on her cell phone, and she worked very slowly. He had every reason to let her go.

She accused him of gender discrimination. She even hired a lawyer, and my boss received a summons to appear in court.

During the initial hearing, the judge could tell that she was the kind of complainant who just wanted to cause trouble. Once my boss showed evidence of her sloppy work and tardiness on her time card, the case was thrown out and he was free to go. She received a hefty fine for wasting everyone’s time.

By wavy58 — On Aug 17, 2011

I was the complainant when I filed charges against my ex-boyfriend for stalking me after we broke up. I went to the police when it got to the point that I feared for my safety.

They made sure that I understood that as a complainant, I took responsibility for telling the truth and not fabricating false statements to fuel any personal vendettas. I had to sign my name to a paper stating that I understood this. I signed under the line labeled “complainant’s signature.”

Even though I had to sign this statement, I think that the officer believed me. After he interviewed my ex-boyfriend and witnessed his psychotic ramblings firsthand, he had no doubt.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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