*This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.

The meaning of words can change based on the situation in which they are used. Such is the case for a term like “defendant.” The definition of defendant changes as it moves through the legal system because the charges brought against a person are so versatile.

If you’re reading a PeopleFinders criminal records report, you’ll need to know the ways in which a definition of defendant can vary.

What is a Defendant?

A defendant is always on the receiving end of legal action. In criminal cases, the defendant is the individual being accused of criminal activity. In a civil case, the defendant is the individual or organization being sued, divorced and so on.

It is the responsibility of the court, in a criminal case, to prove that the defendant committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant is convicted, they will be punished through one of the following three methods:

  • Incarceration
  • Fines
  • Execution (in states where the death penalty is legal)

In a civil case, the defendant will not receive any jail time for their behavior. It is the responsibility of the court, in the midst of a civil case, to determine which party, if any, is in the right. Depending on the case, the court may award finances, property or custody based on its decision.

What is a Civil Defendant?

Traditionally, we hear about criminal defendants facing a court of law. Civil defendants, however, are just as commonly seen, if not more so, in a courtroom. Civil defendants are individuals, organizations, businesses, states or other entities that are being sued or brought to court by another party. It is never the civil defendant’s idea to go to court, as the defendant is the subject being acted against by another subject.

What is the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Defendant?

When a court is undergoing a criminal case, a defendant will have been accused of a crime by legal representatives. The consequences of this case will be more severe than they would be in a civil case, depending on the nature of the case itself.

In the midst of a civil case, the defendant may not be a single person. (It could be a group of people, or a company.) Whomever or whatever the defendant is, they will be the body in the court that is actively being sued. Unlike criminal defendants, civil defendants will leave their time in court having not been incarcerated.

What Are the Different Types of Defendants?

There are other variations on the position of defendant besides “civil” and “criminal.” Depending on the nature of the case, the position of the defendant may change. These types of cases include:

  • Homicide – Homicide cases cover any and all killing of other individuals. However, a defendant may be brought to court under charges of homicide and still be found innocent. In these situations, the court will determine that any homicides committed will have been done out of self-defense. When reading a criminal records report, make sure to assess your data carefully, as these types of situations can justify a defendant’s position.
  • Legal Homicides – In a similar vein, a defendant may be proven innocent in a case of legal homicide. “Justifiable homicides” allow individuals to protect themselves from threats, including rape, robbery and murder. If a defendant can claim self-defense and argue it beyond a reasonable doubt in court, their position in the courtroom changes, and they’ll have done no wrong.
  • Wrongful Death Claims – In some situations, the death of another person may not be considered a criminal case. In the case of a wrongful death, the defendant may be considered a civil defendant instead of a criminal one. This classification depends on whether or not the offended party and representatives want to sue the defendant or have them arrested.

(Note that the aforementioned defendant types are all primarily criminal defendants, and specifically defendants who’ve engaged in one of the more serious crimes listed by the United States Criminal Justice System. This list of defendant types and cases is not comprehensive.)

What Does It Mean If a Person Is Listed As a Defendant In a Criminal Records Report?

When you’re performing a criminal records check at PeopleFinders, you’ll come across legal jargon as used by the court system. If someone is listed as a defendant in their record, then you’ll be able to tell that they were the party that was either sued or moved against by another body.

Make sure to read the rest of the report carefully to better gather all the details of their time in court. Again, a civil defendant goes through a different procedure in court than a criminal defendant, and both parties are treated differently once a court case comes to its conclusion.