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What Does Acquitted Mean?
Acquitted vs Not Guilty: All the Differences

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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If you stand accused of a crime, your criminal defense attorney should do everything in their power to safeguard your rights and diligently strive for the best possible outcome.

What would be the most desirable verdict: acquitted or not guilty? After a decade of working as a criminal defense attorney, I am here to tell you which decision is the most viable and whether a difference exists between them.

Quick Summary

  • Acquittal is not just a result of a "not guilty" verdict - there are other ways to be cleared of criminal charges.
  • In the case of a dismissed charge, jeopardy has not been attached, so the accused can be prosecuted again for that same offense.
  • A not guilty verdict absolves the defendant from legal culpability for the criminal charge filed against them.

Acquitted vs Not Guilty: Is There a Difference?

A lawyer looking at the difference of acquitted and not guiltyYes, there is a difference between an "acquittal" and "not guilty." Though an 'acquittal' and a 'not guilty verdict' may sound similar, they are not the same.

A 'not guilty' verdict implies that the defendant is not legally answerable for the charges against them.

Whereas acquittal, as defined by criminal law, means a judgment rendered by either judge or jury declaring that the accused person has not committed any crime charged against them [1].

When a defendant is acquitted after a court trial, they are found to be not guilty.

However, if there has been an instance of partial acquittal during the proceeding, it means that while the individual was cleared on one charge - they were convicted for another offense.

In this case scenario, this would result in a partial acquittal.

In the United States, it's important to remember that being acquitted doesn't mean one is innocent. Instead, it means that the prosecutor was unsuccessful in demonstrating "beyond a reasonable doubt" that they indeed committed a criminal act.

Often, dismissal of a case takes place before the jury trial begins due to the following:

  • The prosecutor is unwilling to move forward due to the lack of sufficient evidence
  • The judge decides that there is not enough evidence to proceed with the case

If a defendant is dismissed, the legal case against them comes to an end, and they no longer need to face trial. Suppose a trial judge or jury acquits someone of their charges.

In that case, double jeopardy will be applied - meaning this person can never again be prosecuted for the same offense in that jurisdiction.

According to the Fifth Amendment, individuals are protected from being prosecuted twice for the same crime through what is known as the Double Jeopardy Clause. 

If a state court acquits someone of an alleged crime, the same individual can still be prosecuted for the same offense in federal court - and vice versa. Double jeopardy does not stop it from happening.

Is Acquittal the Same as Charge Dismissal?

A lawyer reading a law book with a magnifying glassNo, acquittal is not the same as charge dismissal. A defendant acquitted goes to trial, but the prosecutor fails to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to the judge or jury.

Rather than waste time and resources, judges are hesitant to proceed with a trial unless there is a reasonable prospect of conviction.

This could mean the defendant will be absolved from any charges or associated penalties. 

Criminal defense attorneys can also appeal to judges for dismissal in cases based on legal grounds such as:

  • The defendant was arrested without probable cause
  • The prosecution failed to submit the criminal complaint or documents submitted 
  • An unlawful search and seizure were conducted, defying the fundamental right to privacy according to criminal law

Can Your Criminal Record Be Affected?

A lawyer looking at a criminal recordYour criminal record can be affected depending on the outcome of the case.

For instance, if a charge is dismissed or acquitted and not guilty is declared, the defendant's criminal record will remain clean as no criminal conviction was recorded.

On the other hand, if you decide to plead guilty and a plea deal is accepted, it will be indicated on your criminal record – but only for that particular offense [2].

Fortunately, there are solutions for having your arrest and charges taken off of your permanent record.

I recommend that you get your record expunged after your trial. This is very important to do if you are found not guilty. If you do not do this, you might not be able to get a job, live in certain places, or have other rights.

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FAQs

Can I Get the Charges Dropped?

Yes, it may be possible to get charges dropped. This usually involves negotiations between the prosecution and the criminal defense lawyer to reach an agreement beneficial for both parties, such as reducing the offense or penalty. 

What Does It Mean if the Defendant Is Acquitted?

If the defendant is acquitted, the case goes to trial, but the prosecutor failed to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that they had committed the crime. Consequently, due to the lack of evidence presented in court, a case was dismissed, and the proceedings were halted before reaching jury deliberations.

Can a Case Be Reopened After Acquittal?

No case can be reopened after acquittal. Once an individual has been acquitted, pardoned, or found guilty of a specific offense in the trial, they are legally safeguarded from being prosecuted again for the same crime in the same jurisdiction.

What Happens When the Accused Is Acquitted?

When an accused is acquitted, the charges are dropped, and the proceedings are halted without reaching a verdict or jury deliberations. This is usually due to insufficient evidence the prosecution presents that fails to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Consequently, the accused will be released from any remaining criminal liability concerning that particular offense.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

The process of being tried for a crime can be an overwhelming experience. Fortunately, if you are set free from the accusation due to lack of evidence or acquittal, your life won't have to remain in disarray forever; there is hope for rebuilding and returning to normal.

At Schmidt & Clark, LLP our experienced criminal defense lawyers will guide you through your court proceedings.

If you are found innocent or not guilty in a trial, we'll provide comprehensive advice on what this means for your permanent record and future endeavors. Contact us now for a free consultation session.


References:

  1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/acquittal#:~:text=An%20acquittal%20is%20a%20resolution,guilty%20of%20the%20charged%20offense.
  2. https://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/rule_11