What Does an Acquittal in a Criminal Trial Mean?

What Does an Acquittal in a Criminal Trial Mean?

An acquittal is a not guilty verdict. In other words, if a jury or judge finds you not guilty, they have acquitted you.

If you are charged with a crime and do not enter a plea, your case will go to trial. The prosecution will present its case against you, and you will have a chance to present your defense. Then, the jury will deliberate and reach a verdict. That verdict could be guilty or not guilty. If the jury finds you not guilty, you have been acquitted. A not guilty verdict is an acquittal.

An acquittal means the prosecution could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There are different people who decide to acquit you, depending on the type of trial. Acquittals can also happen for some charges in a case, but not for all the charges. But, an acquittal does usually mean that you are free to go. But it is not the same as a not guilty ruling. Additionally, an acquittal of charges is different from a dismissal of charges.

What is an acquittal?

If you are charged with a crime and do not enter a plea, your case will go to trial. The prosecution will present its case against you, and you will have a chance to present your defense. Then, the jury will deliberate and reach a verdict. If you choose to have a judge decide your case instead of a jury (which is called a “bench trial”), the judge would reach the verdict instead.

That verdict could be guilty or not guilty (or, in some cases, the jury could be “hung,” meaning undecided). If the judge or jury finds you guilty, you have been convicted. If the judge or jury finds you not guilty, you have been acquitted. A not guilty verdict is an acquittal.

A judge or jury will reach this decision if they do not believe the prosecutor proved your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Once you are found not guilty, your case is over, and you will be released. Even if you are acquitted, though, the charges against you may still be on your record.

An acquittal can mean that your trial is over and that you are free.
Image courtesy of :Wavebreakmedia via iStockphoto.com.

Is an acquittal different from a dismissal?

Yes. An acquittal is the term used for a not guilty verdict after a trial. A dismissal, on the other hand, usually takes place before or during a trial.

For example, the defense could move to dismiss the case after a preliminary hearing or after the prosecution presents its case. In doing so, the defense would argue that the prosecution does not have enough evidence to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Can the prosecutor charge you again?

Generally no. If a judge or jury acquits you of a crime, the prosecutor cannot charge you again for the same offense. This is because of the “double jeopardy” rule in the Fifth Amendment. This stops the government from taking you to trial for the same crime twice.

The Takeaway:

If a judge or jury finds you not guilty, you are acquitted. An acquittal is different from a dismissal. Acquittals happen after a trial, but dismissals happen before or during. If you are acquitted, the prosecutor cannot charge you again for the same crime.

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