Plaintiff vs. Defendant

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Plaintiff or Defendant: Who is Who?

In criminal cases, the plaintiff is typically identified as “The People,” which is the State on behalf of the victim. The defendant is the individual(s) being accused of a crime or code violation.

In civil cases, such as a personal injury case, the plaintiff is the person(s) who has alleged that wrongdoing has been done to them. The Defendant is the person(s) or entity that has been accused of committing a wrongful act.

Plaintiff or Defendant - Who is Who?

Burden of Proof: How the Criminal Law and Civil Law Sectors Differ

The law provides a way for victims to seek justice for wrongdoing committed by the accused. Depending on the type of crime or misconduct, a case may be pursued in criminal law courts or civil law courts (sometimes even both). Criminal law and civil law have different standards of proof that are required to win a case and this is referred to as the burden of proof.

What is Burden of Proof?

In a legal context, the burden of proof is defined as:

  • A duty and responsibility placed on a civil or criminal defendant to prove or disprove a disputed fact;
  • A duty placed upon a party to prove or disprove a disputed fact; or
  • It can also define which party bears this burden.

Who has the Burden of Proof?

In a criminal law case, the State has the burden of proof to show by way of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged acts. Failure to provide evidence to the judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt can result in the defendant being found not guilty.

In a civil case, the plaintiff has the burden of proof to show by way of the evidence that the defendant is responsible or at-fault by a preponderance of the evidence.

Burden of Proof Infographic

Reasonable Doubt

In the criminal world, a jury or judge must be persuaded that the accused who allegedly committed the crime is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Courts have defined reasonable doubt to be its own best definition:

  • Reasonable doubt” needs no definition. People v. Davis, 1950, 406 Ill. 215, 92 N.E.2d 649; People v. Hansen, 1914, 263 Ill. 44, 104 N.E. 1069.
  • Concept of reasonable doubt needs no explanation because there is no better definition of reasonable doubt than the words themselves, and thus it is improper for an attorney to attempt to define concept of reasonable doubtPeople v. Garcia, App. 1 Dist.1981, 59 Ill. Dec. 477, 103 Ill.App.3d 779, 431 N.E.2d 1234.

Reasonable doubt is the highest burden within the law to prove because it’s fact based, depends on the circumstances, and holds the highest consequence for those involved.  Its intended purpose is to ensure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent are not.

Preponderance of the Evidence

In the civil world, the plaintiff (the alleged harmed victim) must satisfy the burden by the preponderance of the evidence. It has been defined in Illinois court as evidence which is more convincing than opposing evidence:

  • A preponderance of the evidence is proof that the fact at issue is more likely true than not. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Hansen, 2016 IL App (1st) 143720.
  • “Preponderance of the evidence” is defined as evidence which is of greater weight or more convincing than the evidence which is offered in opposition to it. In re Aniylah B., 2016 IL App (1st) 153662.

In practice, preponderance of the evidence is explained as 51% of the evidence must be in favor of the plaintiff. It can also be described as tipping a balanced scale slightly in one direction compared to the other so that it’s more likely than not that the defendant is responsible.

Legal Glossary Plaintiff vs. Defendant
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