Difference Between Defendant and Accused

Defendant vs Accused

We must remember that there is a difference between defendant and accused though the tendency to use the terms defendant and accused synonymously in day-to-day conversations is not uncommon. Of course, it is natural to immediately question if there is actually a distinction between these terms given their usage and the fact that they somewhat share the same definition. At the very outset, we are aware that the term ‘Defendant’ refers to a party against whom a legal action has been filed. Thus, a Defendant is not the party that initiates or begins a lawsuit. Similarly, the term ‘Accused’ also connotes the role of a Defendant in that it refers to a party against whom an action has been filed. Despite modern usage of the terms as a substitute for the other, there is a difference albeit a very subtle one.

Who is the Defendant?

As mentioned above, a Defendant refers to a party against whom an action has been filed. Thus, an individual or legal entity, such as a company, becomes a Defendant when another party initiates or commences a court action against them. The person initiating a court action is generally referred to as the plaintiff. A Defendant is typically sued for an alleged wrong or charge. The Defendant is generally the party seeking to prove his/her innocence by denying the charges stated by the plaintiff either in a civil case or a criminal case. In a civil action, the Defendant will usually submit an answer in response to the complaint filed by the Plaintiff either accepting or denying the charges in the complaint. On the other hand, in a criminal case the burden is on the plaintiff or prosecution to produce evidence and prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Defendant is guilty of the alleged crime or offence.There can be more than one Defendant in a court case.

Difference Between Defendant and Accused

The defendant is also known as the Accused in a criminal case.

Who is the Accused?

Traditionally, the Accused refers to a person who has been charged with committing a crime or the defendant in a criminal case. A person becomes the Accused when he/she is presented with a formal document, typically a formal indictment or information, comprising the allegation of a particular crime. In addition, a person also receives the title of the Accused when he/she is physically arrested for the alleged crime or offence. Suspects in a police investigation are merely suspects and do not automatically become the Accused unless during the course of the investigation ample evidence is found to accuse the suspect or suspects of committing the crime. As in the case of a Defendant, the Accused can constitute more than one person and includes legal entities such as corporations.

What is the difference between Defendant and Accused?

• A Defendant refers to a party against whom an action is filed. The Defendant can be a party in both a civil and criminal proceeding.

• The Accused refers to a person charged with committing a crime. Simply put, the Accused is the Defendant in a criminal case.

• Thus, the term ‘Accused’ is limited to a criminal proceeding. In contrast, the term ‘Defendant’ includes the Accused and also refers to a party in a civil proceeding.


Images Courtesy: 

  1. People’s Court in Nazi Germany. Trial of Adolf Reichwein, 1944 by BArchBot (CC BY-SA 3.0 de)