Plaintiff vs Defendant: Who Are They and What’s Their Role?

Plaintiff vs Defendant: Who Are They and What’s Their Role?

The main differences between Plaintiff vs Defendant is, the prosecutor, petitioner, or plaintiff has the burden of proof in a criminal or civil case. The defendant (or respondent) must disprove the plaintiff’s case. Plaintiffs and defendants are usually the two parties in a lawsuit. 

Occasionally, another party is involved. For example, in a family law or personal injury case, the judge may appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the children.

Burdens of Proof

The burden of proof varies in different courts. Usually, civil plaintiffs must prove their cases by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). 

Injury plaintiffs must prove the elements of negligence (duty breach, cause, and damages). Contract plaintiffs must prove the parties had an enforceable written or oral agreement. These plaintiffs must also establish the terms of the agreement and show how the defendant breached that agreement.

Prosecutors must establish guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. Different jurisdictions define this phrase differently. Some jurisdictions don’t define it at all. The Bill of Rights, like the Fourth Amednment’s search and seizure rules, limits the evidence prosecutors can use. These protections don’t apply in civil court. 

Clear and convincing evidence is an in-between burden of proof for plaintiffs and defendants. This standard of evidence applies in some in-between cases, like child custody and punitive damages matters.

Lawsuit Procedure

A lawsuit between a plaintiff vs defendant usually goes through four stages: filing, pretrial motions, discovery, and resolution.

When a plaintiff files a lawsuit, the defendant usually has between two and four weeks to make a written response. If the defendant doesn’t respond, the court could grant a default judgment.

Pretrial motions in civil cases include motions to dismiss due to a lack of evidence. A motion to suppress evidence is a similar motion in a criminal case. Usually, the party that filed the motion has the burden of proof on the motion.

Discovery is a supervised information exchange process between the plaintiff and defendant. Federal and state laws require both parties to place all their cards face-up on the table, in terms of their claims and defenses. Additionally, in criminal court, prosecutors must turn over certain evidence, like potentially exculpatory witness statements, to defendants.

Most criminal and civil cases settle out of court. Parties could agree to settle a case at any time. Usually, they wait until discovery ends, when all evidence is available.

Civil parties usually agree to settle the matter for a sum of money. Neither side admits or denies liability. Criminal defendants usually plead guilty or no contest in exchange for a reduced sentence or a lesser charge (e.g. misdemeanor ordinary assault instead of felony aggravated assault).