Acquittal in a criminal case does not mean a defendant is innocent of the crime, only that the prosecutor failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
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Understanding Acquittal Under Criminal Law
Under criminal law, an acquittal is a general term for a “not guilty” verdict, but it doesn’t mean the defendant is innocent of the crime. If the defendant is acquitted of a crime, it only means that the prosecutor in the case failed to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt according to the law.
There is a subtle difference between an acquittal and a not guilty verdict. If a defendant is “acquitted,” it means that he/she is found not guilty by a judge or jury of the crime charged. If a defendant is found “not guilty,” it means that he/she is found not legally answerable for the criminal charges filed against him/her. These subtle differences in the law can be confusing to a defendant without a criminal law attorney to explain what these legal terms mean, and what the verdict means to the defendant moving forward.
In some criminal cases, a defendant may be partially acquitted of a crime charged against him/her. For instance, if the defendant is charged with both rape and domestic violence, there may be enough evidence to support one charge but not the other. The defendant may found guilty and convicted of rape, but acquitted on domestic violence charges.
Acquittal and Double Jeopardy
If a person is acquitted, he/she can’t be prosecuted for the same crime again under double jeopardy. The government loses power to prosecute a defendant twice for the same offense. The United States Constitution’s Fifth Amendment contains a double jeopardy clause that prohibits the following:
- Prosecution for the same offense after acquittal
- Double convictions for the same offense after acquittal
- Multiple punishments for the same offense
An acquittal or not guilty verdict in a criminal trial can still result in a civil trial where monetary damages may be awarded to the victim of the crime. There is a lower standard of proof in civil cases than in criminal cases. A defendant who’s acquitted in a criminal trial should be prepared for the possibility of a civil trial. A criminal law attorney can explain the process and possible liabilities the defendant may face in a civil trial related to the crime.