de·​fen·​dant | \ di-ˈfen-dənt How to pronounce defendant (audio) , in legal circles often -ˌdant How to pronounce defendant (audio) \

Definition of defendant

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a person or group against whom a criminal or civil action is brought : someone who is being sued or accused of committing a crime if the jury finds the defendant not guilty — compare plaintiff



Definition of defendant (Entry 2 of 2)

: being on the defensive : defending

Examples of defendant in a Sentence

Noun The jury believed that the defendant was guilty.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Another Sacramento defendant logged on while getting his hair cut at a barber shop. Darrell Smith, Anchorage Daily News, "California doctor performs surgery while appearing in Zoom traffic court appointment," 1 Mar. 2021 Another Sacramento defendant logged on while getting his hair cut at a barber shop. Washington Post, "California doctor attends Zoom court hearing during surgery: ‘I’m in an operating room right now.’," 1 Mar. 2021 Goebel testified that Smith is able to understand the charges against him, a crucial element in criminal proceedings where the defendant's mental state would preclude prosecutors from pushing a case forward. Jim Riccioli, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Student shot by police after he allegedly brought a BB gun to Waukesha South High School is competent to stand trial," 27 Feb. 2021 That could mean sending someone home with an ankle monitor or ordering the defendant to submit to drug or alcohol testing, for example. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Utah sought to make its bail system more fair to the poor. And months later, some lawmakers are calling it a disaster.," 26 Feb. 2021 The prosecutor said the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was measured at about .13 percent shortly after the crash. City News Service, San Diego Union-Tribune, "20-year-old driver pleads not guilty to DUI manslaughter in National City crash," 26 Feb. 2021 Some attorneys have interpreted the statute to apply only when a defendant's actions put multiple people at risk — not a specific individual — and results in a death. Rochelle Olson, Star Tribune, "Former Minneapolis cop Mohamed Noor asks state Supreme Court to hear his third-degree murder appeal," 25 Feb. 2021 And a prosecutor can pre-emptively strike an LGBTQ juror from a case involving a transgender defendant. NBC News, "Jurors can be rejected for being gay. The Equality Act could change that.," 25 Feb. 2021 Democrats have argued that Becerra has extensive experience in health care policy, first as a congressman who oversaw components of Medicare and then as a defendant of Obamacare as attorney general, using that role to add new focus on the issue. Allison Pecorin, ABC News, "Biden HHS nominee to highlight experience as GOP gears up for fight," 23 Feb. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Prosecutors say that Jackson, Williams and co-defendant Victor D. Edwards, 31, of St. Paul, went to the Target headquarters on Nicollet, where dozens of others had gathered and started rioting. Paul Walsh, Star Tribune, "2 admit setting fires at Minneapolis Target HQ amid riot over false rumor," 26 Jan. 2021 After a two-week trial, Jolanda’s client was found not guilty while his co-defendant cousin, in the same trial with the same jury but different lawyer, was convicted on both counts and sentenced to 20- and 40-year sentences, respectively. Dalton Ross,, "Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Jolanda Jones on being portrayed as the 'bitch' in Palau," 2 Oct. 2020 He and co-defendant Lynwood Jennet originally were charged with 32 counts related to Medicaid fraud. Robert Anglen, azcentral, "Former County Assessor Paul Petersen pleads guilty to welfare fraud in international adoption scheme," 18 June 2020 On June 5, 2018, Woods and co-defendant Christian Pittman, 24, robbed the apartment of 28-year-old Diamond Smith and his girlfriend, who was home at the time, Walsh said. Robin Goist, cleveland, "Akron man sentenced to life in prison for deadly robbery," 16 Dec. 2019 Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz looked at defendant Jesse McCauley. Sydney Czyzon, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Jesse McCauley to spend 35 years in prison for killing Minnesota man his girlfriend met at strip club," 18 July 2019 Others have wondered aloud if a conviction could be won if the defendant police officer in a fatal shooting were nonwhite and the victim white. Mark Curnutte,, "Why juries have a hard time convicting cops," 24 July 2017 Defendant Juan Thompson is believed to have committed about a dozen of them. David Kravets, Ars Technica, "Man who e-mailed bomb threats to frame former girlfriend pleads guilty," 13 June 2017 Defendant pleads guilty as St. Tammany murder trial enters fifth day Three days after testimony began in his second-degree murder trial in Covington, Calvin Jefferson pleaded guilty Friday morning (June 9) in the murder of his ex-wife in 2012. Carol Wolfram,, "Water boiling advisory lifted for Alton community," 9 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'defendant.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of defendant


14th century, in the meaning defined above


14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for defendant


Middle English defendaunt, borrowed from Anglo-French defendant, diffendaunt, noun derivative from present participle of defendre "to defend"


Middle English defendaunt, from Anglo-French defendant, present participle of defendre "to defend"

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Time Traveler for defendant

Time Traveler

The first known use of defendant was in the 14th century

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Statistics for defendant

Last Updated

4 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Defendant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for defendant



English Language Learners Definition of defendant

: a person who is being sued or accused of a crime in a court of law


de·​fen·​dant | \ di-ˈfen-dənt, -ˌdant How to pronounce defendant (audio) \

Legal Definition of defendant

: the party against whom a criminal or civil action is brought — see also answer, codefendant — compare accused, plaintiff

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