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In a court case there are at least two parties. The plaintiff is the party who has a complaint or who is making an accusation, while the defendant is the party that is being accused of doing harm to another. A defendant is not always an individual. In some cases, it can be a company or a government.
It is important to differentiate between a defendant and a suspect. A suspect is generally a term that is used by law enforcement. It refers to a person who is believed to have done wrong. This individual has likely not been formally charged. He is merely a subject of suspicion.
When a person is a defendant, suspicion has been taken to the next level. This means that some party has made a formal accusation of wrongdoing against another. As a result, legal action is in the process. There must be a court case in order for there to be a defendant.
The case does not always have to involve criminal wrongdoing. Defendants are also parties in civil cases. For example, a person who is accused of damaging another person's car in an automobile accident can be a defendant.
Defendants are not automatically deemed guilty just because they are accused. The judicial system is not designed to place the burden of proof on the defendants. An accusation against a person must be proven by the party making the claim.
An accused person has the right to be informed of the accusations against him. He has the right to hear the evidence that supports those claims. Thereafter, the defendant, whether accused of criminal harm or civil harm, must be given the opportunity to defend himself.
Depending on the type of case that is pending against him, he may have a jury decide on his fate, or this may be done by a judge. Whether or not defendants have a lawyer may also be determined by the type of case. In some instances, legal representation is required, and even those defendants who cannot afford it will have it provided for them.
Defendants are not always individuals. Other entities can also do harm and have legal action brought against them. Such entities include corporations and governments. The United States, for example, may be named as the defendant in instances when a federal entity such as a government agency or branch of the military is accused of wrongdoing.