The Defendant

The defendant, also referred to as the indictee in certain cases, is the designation given in the legal process to someone who is suspected of having committed a crime and is under investigation. The suspect can be constituted as an indictee by the police upon the request of the Public Prosecution Service or the judge and, from that moment on, has a set of rights but is also subject to various duties. These rights and duties extend throughout the entire process.

The defendant has the right to be present in the procedural acts that concern him, to be heard whenever any decision affecting him needs to be made, to be informed (before making any statements) of the acts he is suspected of having committed, to refrain from answering questions about those acts, to be assisted by a defender, to present evidence, and to appeal decisions unfavourable to him.

Among other duties, the defendant must appear before the judge, the Public Prosecution Service, or the police whenever summoned, subject himself to evidence collection procedures, and not change his residence or be absent from it for more than eight days without previously informing the judge of the new address or the place where he can be found.

At the trial, the last person to be questioned, if present, is the defendant. The defendant has the right to refuse to make statements. However, statements made by him in earlier stages of the process can be used and valued by the judge. If he wishes to make statements, the judge begins by asking him whether what is written in the accusation is true, that is, whether he confesses to the acts or not. The defendant then has the opportunity to tell his version of what happened, with the judge possibly interrupting him to ask specific questions. Then, the judge allows, successively, the Public Prosecution Service and the lawyers to ask questions. Unlike witnesses, the defendant does not take an oath to tell the truth before being heard.

The defendant can be removed from the courtroom during the testimony of a witness, particularly the victim, if the court considers, for instance, that his presence might prevent them from telling the truth.

If the defendant has been summoned to attend the trial and fails to appear, the trial proceeds in their absence and the sentence is communicated to them later. If it is impossible to notify them (for example, because their whereabouts are unknown, implying a violation of their duty to inform the court if they leave the previously indicated residence), the process is suspended while authorities try to locate them. In these cases, the defendant is summoned by public notice, and the process is halted until they are found — which might happen, for example, when they attempt to apply for an identification document or family grant, among other measures, all aimed at locating them and holding them accountable for the acts they are suspected of.

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