A criminal defendant is the party accused of a crime in a criminal case. The defendant is accused by a criminal prosecutor—the equivalent of the plaintiff in civil cases. The role of prosecutor is filled by a national, regional or other government entity whose jurisdiction the case falls under. The criminal defendant will either be proven innocent or, if found guilty, face a prison term or a monetary fine. Prison terms are often accompanied with probation periods and community service programs. Some countries and regions also sentence criminal defendants to the death penalty if the punishment seems worthy of the crime.
There are key differences between criminal defendants and civil defendants. In a criminal case, the criminal defendant is prosecuted not by the party who may have been wronged, but by a regional or national governmental entity representing that party. In a civil case, however, the plaintiff prosecuting the defendant and the party claiming injury are one and the same. Of course, in a civil case, the defendant also is not in danger of receiving criminal charges.
A criminal defendant is afforded a certain measure of rights, which can vary greatly depending on the country in which the crime was committed. In the United States, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a fair and speedy public trial by jury—if the possible prison sentence exceeds six months—as well as the right to an attorney. If the defendant can't afford an attorney, the government must provide one. Not all countries offer the right to a trial by jury, opting instead to settle cases solely with a judge or panel of judges. Russia, for example, has done away with trial by jury for certain criminal cases. Although juries can be flawed, they can also help prevent corrupt or mistaken judges from handing down unfair sentences.
Protection against double jeopardy is another unique right that many countries recognize; this practice protects a criminal defendant from being tried for the same crime twice. Many countries also honor criminal defendants' rights not to incriminate themselves. This means that they have the right to remain silent while in police custody. It also means that they may refuse to be a witness in their own trial. This is often not the case in civil trials, in which a defendant may be obligated to testify, even if that testimony will be self-incriminating.