In a civil proceeding or criminal prosecution under the common law or under statute, a defendant may raise a defense (or defence) in an attempt to avoid civil liability or criminal conviction. A defense is put forward by a party to defeat a suit or action brought against the party, and may be based on legal grounds or on factual claims.
Besides contesting the accuracy of an allegation made against the defendant in the proceeding, the defendant may also make allegations against the prosecutor or plaintiff or raise a defense, arguing that, even if the allegations against the defendant are true, the defendant is nevertheless not liable. Acceptance of a defense by the court completely exonerates the defendant and not merely mitigates the liability.
The defense phase of a trial occurs after the prosecution phase, that is, after the prosecution "rests". Other parts of the defense include the opening and closing arguments and the cross-examination during the prosecution phase.
Since a defense is raised by the defendant in a direct attempt to avoid what would otherwise result in liability, the defendant typically holds the burden of proof. For example, a defendant who is charged with assault may claim provocation, but they would need to prove that the plaintiff had provoked the defendant.
In common law, a defendant may raise any of the numerous defenses to limit or avoid liability. These include:
The defense in a homicide case may attempt to present evidence of the victim's character, to try to prove that the victim had a history of violence or of making threats of violence that suggest a violent character. The goal of presenting character evidence about the victim may be to make more plausible a claim of self-defense, or in the hope of accomplishing jury nullification in which a jury acquits a guilty defendant despite its belief that the defendant committed a criminal act.
Litigation is expensive and often may last for months or years. Parties can finance their litigation and pay for their attorneys' fees or other legal costs in a number of ways. A defendant can pay with their own money, through legal defense funds, or legal financing companies. For example, in the United Kingdom, a defendant's legal fees may be covered by legal aid.