What Is an Acquittal?

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.

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

Civil Liability

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.

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

People facing criminal charges in Minnesota often ask, “Can you defend yourself in court?” You can represent yourself in court when charged with a crime. Self-representation, however, is not typically in the accused's best interests, even if courts allow it.
Parents whose children have been arrested or accused of committing a heinous crime might wonder, “Can a minor be charged with a felony?” A minor aged 14 years or older but below 18 years may face felony charges in Minnesota.
People accused of or under investigation for assault might ask, “What are the charges for assault?” Minnesota has five levels of assault charges. First-degree assault is the most serious offense, and a conviction often results in the most severe penalties, like long prison time and hefty fines.