Although an acquittal is generally used to mean that the defendant is not guilty, there is a difference between being acquitted and being not guilty. If you find yourself charged with a crime, you may be wondering, “What does being acquitted mean and how is it different than not guilty?”
An acquittal is when the prosecutor can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. When the judge or jury finds a defendant not guilty, this means that the defendant isn’t legally answerable for the criminal charge.
There are differences between an acquittal and several other verdicts, and each has its own consequences.
Acquitted Versus Not Guilty
Although in both cases the defendant doesn’t receive punishment for the crime charged, there is a difference between being acquitted and being not guilty.
Being found not guilty means that the defendant isn’t answerable for the crime. However, if the prosecutor doesn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, then the defendant will be acquitted. It’s possible for a defendant to be acquitted of a crime in a criminal case but held liable for the same offense in a civil case.
Acquittal Versus Dismissal
Just like there are differences between an acquittal and being not guilty, there are procedural differences between an acquittal and a dismissal. As stated above, being acquitted happens when the prosecutor can’t prove that the defendant is guilty. A dismissal happens earlier in the court process for a variety of reasons. A dismissal is sometimes referred to as having the charges dropped. A dismissal occurs when:
- The prosecutor doesn’t think there is enough evidence
- The judge doesn’t think there are enough resources to try the case
- The judge thinks the case lacks credibility
There are several reasons that a defense attorney can petition the court for a dismissal. If the police made the arrest without probable cause or conducted an unlawful search and seizure, then that is grounds for a dismissal. There is also good reason for a dismissal if there is insufficient evidence or if the district attorney made mistakes in the criminal complaint or charging documents.
When a case is dismissed, the case ends and the defendant doesn’t have to stand trial.
Double Jeopardy and Acquittals
When a case is acquitted, double jeopardy applies. Double jeopardy means that there won’t be a prosecution for the same offense, double convictions for the same offense, or multiple punishments for the same offense.
It’s important to note that if a defendant is acquitted in state court, then the defendant can still be charged for the same crime in federal court. Vise versa also applies.
There are many different ways that a case can end up without harming the defendant, and one of these ways is an acquittal. Now you have the answer when someone asks you, “What does acquitted mean?”