Defendant is the term given in criminal proceedings to someone who is being investigated on suspicion of having committed a crime.
The suspect may be named a defendant
by the police
, the Public Prosecution Service
or the judge
. From that moment on, he/she not only has a number of rights but is also bound by a number of duties. These rights and duties apply throughout the proceedings.
The defendant is entitled to be present whenever any procedures which concern him are being conducted, or to be heard whenever a decision must be made which will affect him/her, to be informed, before providing a statement, of the facts he/she is suspected of having committed, to refuse to answer questions about those facts, to be represented by a defence lawyer
, to submit evidence and to lodge an appeal
against unfavourable decisions.
The defendant has the following main duties:
to appear before the judge, the Public Prosecution Service or the police whenever called upon to do so, to allow him/herself to be examined for evidence, and not to move house or be absent from it for more than 5 days without first providing the new address or the place where he/she can be found.
At the trial
, the first person to be questioned is the defendant, if he/she is present
. The defendant is entitled to refuse to testify. However, any statements made at previous stages of the case may be used and taken into consideration by the judge. If the defendant wishes to testify, the judge starts by asking whether or not what is written in the charge sheet is true, that is, whether or not the defendant confesses to the crime. The defendant then has the chance to give his/her version of what happened and the judge may interrupt to ask some specific questions. Next, the judge asks the public prosecutor and the lawyers, successively, to examine or cross-examine the defendant. Unlike the witnesses
, the defendant does not take an oath, that is to say, he/she does not undertake to tell the truth.
The defendant may be removed from the courtroom
while any witness, particularly the victim
is testifying. This is the case when the court believes that the defendant's presence may deter the victim from telling the truth or if he/she is under 16 and there are reasons to believe that testifying in the presence of the defendant may have a serious adverse effect.
If the defendant was served a summons to appear in court but fails to attend, the trial will go ahead even in his/her absence and the sentence will be communicated to him/her at a later stage
. If it was not possible to serve the summons, because, for example, the defendant’s whereabouts were unknown, this means that the defendant breached his/her duty to inform the court of his/her absence from the address given. In this case, the proceedings will be stayed while the authorities attempt to locate him/her.
In these cases, the defendant is classified as wilfully disobedient and his/her name is included in a register of wilfully disobedient persons
. This carries a number of negative consequences, including arrest warrants being issued in their names, not being able to obtain documents such as national identity cards or driving licences, and possibly having their property seized, all with the objective of finding them and holding them liable for the acts they are suspected of having committed.